Calling themselves the Solidarity Delegation, seven individuals from Japan, Indonesia, Korea and India came to Quebec this week in an attempt to stop the provincial government from financing underground redevelopment at the Jeffrey mine in Asbestos, QC. The delegates are demanding that chrysotile mining in Quebec and Canada cease, saying the product is a hazard to health.
Although strict standards govern the mining and use of asbestos in Canada, the same is not true in many developing countries.
"In Quebec, it is illegal for people to be exposed to damaged pieces of asbestos. In Asia, this is common," said one delegate. "Broken pieces of asbestos cement are re-used for homes and children play amongst asbestos cement rubble. Many people have never even heard of asbestos, but that doesn't stop it from killing them."
The debate concerning the safe use of asbestos is far from over. It has been re-ignited as a group of international investors wants to purchase the Jeffrey mine. Plans call for mining to cease in the pit and move underground. Production will expand from 15,000 to 180,000 t/y in 2012 and eventually to 225,000 tonnes. Accomplishing that will take an $80-million investment and create 500 jobs. The plans are supported by the Asbestos community and those who would like to have those jobs.
The investors have pledged to pay for audits of their customers carried out either by government officials or third-party experts. They have also pledged to increase safe usage at the level of end users and to eliminate ignorance through education.
The Mouvement Pro Chrysotile, a Quebec group backing the mine expansion, said in a press release, "Rather than involving themselves in an internal debate over the development of Quebec's natural resources, why didn't members of the Asian delegation ask political leaders in their own countries to adopt and enforce strict safe-use measures, not only for chrysotile, but for all the alternative fibres and products, whose safety has not been demonstrated?"
That in a nutshell is the problem. The investors wanting to own the Jeffrey mine will have to ensure that the product is mined safely, and they must sell it only to responsible customers. But can they really assure the public that chrysotile will be used and handled safely at every project on which it is used?
If their educational efforts are successful, the debate may finally shift toward responsible asbestos use instead of a total ban on a product needed for sewers and housing in many parts of the world.