The up-and-down fortunes of the McWatters nickel mine may be at a new low. Owner Liberty Mines of Toronto says that it has identified the presence of chrysotile in the orebody there. The mine operated off and on from 2009 to 2012, but it is currently on care and maintenance due to low nickel spot prices.
Chrysotile is a type of asbestos and as such falls under Ontario Health and Safety Regulations. Liberty is taking appropriate precautions while it investigates the discovery. Additional testing and independent analysis will be necessary before the company can consider the feasibility of restarting the McWatters mine.
This situation – unexpected asbestos in a hard rock mine – is a first to our knowledge. Canadian miners can successfully handle many hazardous situations, whether it be radiation, noxious gases, water inflow or rockbursts, but asbestos is increasingly unpopular for its deleterious health effects. The global market for it is shrinking rapidly and virtually non-existent in North America and Europe.
Liberty may find it cannot profitably mine the asbestos it encounters at the McWatters mine and it will have to be stockpiled. The alternative would be to count the affected areas out of the resources and mining plans or close the project permanently.