The controversial decision of the Quebec government to offer a $58 million loan to investors to revive one of the few remaining asbestos mines in Canada has been heavily scrutinized by asbestos victim support groups and health organizations alike.
According to Reuters, the decision to allow the investor group – headlined by Quebec-based Balcorp Ltd. – to reopen the Jeffrey asbestos mine in the aptly named town of Asbestos could ultimately extend the site’s life by more than two decades.
Financial issues have plagued the asbestos mine, which is more than 130 years old but has run on-and-off over the past few years, the news source said. Still, Canada remains one of the largest exporters of chrysotile asbestos in the world, according to Reuters.
Public health specialist rails against ‘exploitation’
The Quebec government’s controversial move has sent shock waves through the scientific community, particularly as exposure to asbestos has been proven for decades to lead to the development of serious illnesses such as lung cancer, asbestosis and malignant mesothelioma.
Yv Bonnier Viger, the head of Quebec’s association of public health specialists, told The Globe and Mail that Premier Jean Charest “has good reason to be ashamed” after giving the go-ahead for the loan.
“He is relaunching the exploitation of an extremely dangerous material that will cause the suffering and death of thousands of people in poor countries, at only marginal benefit to a desperate community,” Viger noted.
Viger is no doubt alluding to countries such as India, where a large percentage of Canada’s asbestos is exported. These developing countries continue to use asbestos as a building material despite the dangerous risks.
Asbestos no laughing matter
Paul Lapierre, vice president public affairs and cancer control for the Canadian Cancer Society, added that the revitalization of the Jeffrey mine “is in direct conflict with global cancer control.” According to the World Health Organization, asbestos-related illnesses claim the lives of approximately 107,000 people across the globe each year.
Unfortunately, some individuals are not aware of the serious risks posed by asbestos exposure. For instance, Maurice Gilbert, who worked around asbestos mines for 19 years, joked to The Globe and Mail that he had never sneezed in his life. Unfortunately, the symptoms of asbestos-related illnesses typically do not manifest themselves until decades after initial exposure to the material, so the true impact may not be immediately apparent.