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Canadian government studying asbestos mine waste

A Canadian federal government plan to transform a significant amount of asbestos mining waste in Quebec into plants and even biofuel crops could put nearby citizens at risk, according to internal documents.

According to the Canadian Press, Ottawa will attempt to use the waste materials in the center of Canada’s asbestos country to see if they could potentially yield plants or even biofuel crops someday.

Additionally, the Natural Resources Canada project in Thetford Mines in Quebec strives to determine whether or not it is worthwhile to extract certain minerals that are buried in the waste sites in the community.

But while these waste products could prove useful in developing plants and biofuels, digging up the materials, which include the dangerous fibers of asbestos, could pose a health risk to the nearby community, according to government documents.

There is a massive amount of this waste sitting in the middle of Thetford Mines.

“There is the risk of remobilizing chrysotile asbestos fibers during the rehabilitation of the site,” said a project document that was produced for the Natural Resources Department. “This could pose a risk to people in the area and the ecosystem,” the document said.

The Canadian Press was able to obtain the internal documents under the Access to Information Act.

Thetford Mines, which has been one of the international leaders of asbestos production for a number of decades, has had these mountains of waste for many years, according to the news source.

Before it was discovered that asbestos exposure could cause serious health risks, the town of Thetford Mines referred to itself as the “asbestos capital of the world.”

But now it is known that the inhalation of the deadly mineral fibers can cause a number of serious diseases including malignant mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 107,000 people worldwide die each year from asbestos-related illnesses.

Recently the controversial asbestos industry in Canada has come under fire from a growing anti-asbestos campaign across the globe. Many health professionals and anti-asbestos activists have spoken out against the mines, which export a majority of their asbestos to developing countries around the world.

However, the Canadian government has continued to stand by the industry, arguing that asbestos is safe when it is handled properly, according to the news source. With the studies on Thetford Mines, Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis is looking to the potential green outcomes of the asbestos waste materials.

Last summer, Paradis announced two feasibility studies with a total price tag of $600,000. The projects are funded by Ottawa’s $8 million green mining initiative, which strives to create green economic opportunities and improve the environmental performance of the local community.

One study will examine the fertility of the waste piles while the second study hopes to identify certain buried minerals that are of “economic interest,” according to the news provider.

Another potential project being considered by the government would convert the waste sites into agricultural land to create biofuel crops.

But Thetford Mines mayor Luc Berthold says that the mounds of waste actually have become tourist attractions for the town.

“It’s charming for some visitors,” Berthold told the news source. “I find it’s what sets us apart. We’re always looking for ways to be different.”

Berthold is interested in the value of the minerals, including nickel and magnesium, that are believed to be stored inside of the piles of waste. The mining industry in Thetford Mines has declined significantly in the last few decades, as the number of miners has dropped from 5,000 in the 1970s to just 450 today, according to Berthold.

“We see this [mining] waste as a bank account,” Berthold told the news provider. “It could give our mining sector a second life.”

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