Canada's Asbestos Industry The Final Countdown
For the Quebec Government asbestos D-Day looms ever closer. Whether or not the Provincial Government makes good on its promise to provide a $58 million loan guarantee to asbestos entrepreneurs is dependent on their ability to obtain private sector financing of $25 million for a proposed underground mine at the site of the depleted open pit chrysotile mine in the Quebec town of Asbestos.1 Although many deadlines have come and gone, the most recent being July 1, it seems that the mid-August deadline may be the last chance for the project. Comments made on July 6, 2011 by Clement Gignac, Minister of Industry, displayed a fair degree of frustration: 'It's been months and months,' that the government has been waiting on the promoter to get private financing together, Gignac said.2
This controversial project is the last hope for chrysotile diehards as Canada's asbestos surface reserves have been virtually exhausted. A recent labor dispute at LAB Chrysotile's Black Lake Mine, Canada's last full-time chrysotile mine, brought production to a full stop in mid-July when workers staged a walk-out which lasted for some days. Union leaders have filed grievances and talks are believed to be ongoing to resolve the situation. According to Canadian campaigner Kathleen Ruff, the labor issues are yet another problem faced by a company beset by landslides, road collapse and road closure, due to poor environmental practices by the mine [owners]. Following the walk-out, LAB President Simon Dupéré said that mining operations could be suspended for an indefinite period in November 2011 blaming multiple problems: It is labour, it is production, it is development, it is a bit of everything. 3
A cynical person might say that the company (LAB) is using its internal challenges as a smokescreen to hide the real reason for the impending closure: the mine has run out of chrysotile. A confidential memo, obtained by researcher Ken Rubin under the Access to Information Act, written in 2008 by Natural Resources Canada predicted that the Black Lake mine would cease production by the end of 2012: The open-pit Lac d'amiante du Canada operation will be the last remaining chrysotile mine in Canada, with an estimated mine life of two to four years 4 Dupéré says that shrinking deposits are not the problem:
No, it ain't the case, it's not going to be over by 2012 There's enough resources to last way longer than that... Thetford Mines is full of it. No matter where you look, you could dig and find some.
Luc Lachance, President of the trade union which represents the mine workers, told journalists that although the mine has more than two years of life left, its long-term future is dependent on permission from the authorities for mining operations to commence under a closed highway.
With just days left to the final decision, one can only hope that Canada's inglorious asbestos industry will, after more than a hundred years of death and destruction, finally be consigned to history. The clock is ticking
August 1, 2011
1 Kazan-Allen L. Last Chance for Canada's New Asbestos Mine? March 18, 2011.
2 Lalonde M. Minister hints at pulling plug on asbestos-mine expansion. July 7, 2011.
3 Ruff K. Asbestos: Canada plays destructive role on world stage.
4 Blatchford A. Canada's last functional asbestos mine about to run dry. July 22, 2011