Title: Jeffrey Mine work continues
Dewatering plans are moving ahead at the Jeffrey Mine adjoining the town of Asbestos Quebec, said Bernard Coulombe, its president in a recent interview. This despite opposition from groups who fear that safeguards for using the Asbestos extracted there will not be rigorously enforced in merging Asian markets, where much of the mine’s proposed output would be headed.
Asbestos, a fibre known for its strength, ability to absorb sound and its resistance to heat, is highly dangerous and has been banned for general use in many jurisdictions including the European Union. World production has fallen by more than half since peaking in the mid-1970s.
But Coulombe, cheered by growing demand is undeterred. “The ball is in our camp right now,” said Coulombe. “We still have to finalize contracts with certain shareholders, who will be acquiring a good part of the production. But everything is proceeding on schedule.”
Coulombe, the mine’s largest shareholder, is trying to get the province of Quebec to agree to guarantee a $58 million loan, to supplement the $25 million that investors are chipping into finance the 130 year old mine’s $83 million revitalization costs. The project would create or sustain 500 jobs, in this politically hot Quebec region, at a time when local politicians are starting to slowly think about the next election.
The Charest government, acutely aware of the region’s importance, recently concluded an agreement on sustainable development in mining activities. The agreement also covers chrysotile, the type of asbestos that will be extracted at the Jeffrey Mine, which is used to make shingles, pipes and panels.
Coulombe argues that while richer countries can afford to use costlier products such as sophisticated plastics, chrysotile is a good alternative for use in poorer nations and is safe if used properly. “Critics make no distinction between amphibole, the asbestos that was mined here in the past and chrysotile, which is safe to use in small quantities,” said Coulombe. “We are further hampered by the fact that many makers of substitute products are trying to stop its usage.”
The Canadian Cancer Society for its part is not buying Coulombe’s arguments. “Our position is that all forms of asbestos cause cancer,” said Paul Lapierre, an association spokesperson. “(We) call for governments to adopt a comprehensive strategy addressing all aspects of the Asbestos use including worker safety and setting a timetable for phasing out the use and export of asbestos.”
However Coulombe’s patience with critics is wearing thin. To help build support for his cause, he recently took out large ads to argue his cause in Quebec newspapers such as the Gazette, Le Devoir, and Les Affaires (though not La Presse, which has been highly critical).
“Critics say that chrysotile is carcinogenic. Well X-Rays and many other products are carcinogenic if taken in large enough quantities,” says Coulombe. “It just means that the product needs to be used properly.
Coulombe expects a final decision regarding Quebec’s loan guarantee to be announced by mid-to late March.
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