Is This Really the Death of Canada’s Asbestos Mine Empire?

For the first time in 130 years, Canada’s asbestos mines are quiet. Finally.

The country has announced that production was halted at the Lac d’amiante du Canada operation in Thetford Mines, Quebec, following the closure of the Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos, Quebec, earlier this year. Financial and environmental issues were cited in the closure of each.

Once considered Canada’s Gold, asbestos has tarnished Canada’s legacy since some political leaders aggressively protect the deadly substance and support the industry’s expansion. To this day, Canada continues to be one of the world’s largest exporters of asbestos — even though it is universally considered a health hazard, a cancer-causing agent, and no longer used within the country itself.

It’s a hot-button issue, with all of Canada’s political parties except the Conservatives pushing for a ban.

The Toronto Sun recently reported the appeals to government of an Ontario woman who lost both of her parents to asbestos-related disease:

Heidi Von Palleske — a self-proclaimed “asbestos orphan” — wants to convince the Conservative government to ban the exportation and mining of asbestos. “Four days before [mom] died, I recorded a plea where she asked that the exportation of asbestos to Third World countries stop because nobody — nobody — should die the way she was dying,” said Von Palleske.

The Cobourg, Ont., resident said her father worked in an asbestos mine and her mother developed a rare illness because she inhaled asbestos fibres from his clothing.

Von Palleske’s 11-year-old daughter also had harsh words for the Canadian government:

“I can’t believe it,” said Cavanagh Matmor. “They don’t know how it feels to have a grandmother and grandfather die of asbestos. But they don’t listen to others… It breaks my heart knowing that they’re going to continue doing that.”

Canada introduced the western world to asbestos, according to this excellent magazine article from The Globe & Mail, Canada’s Chronic Asbestos Problem:

Defensive about his town’s reputation, [Thetford Mines Mayor Luc] Berthold told a Montreal reporter that the effect of asbestos dust on health pales compared to that of smog in Montreal. In the anteroom to Berthold’s office, piles of glossy flyers promote asbestos’s “safe and irreplaceable fibres,” with charts proving that tobacco and highway accidents are thousands of times more dangerous than asbestos in schools.

It’s hard to blame the place for this attitude. After all, it wouldn’t exist without the strange fibre that a farmer named Joseph Fecteau stumbled upon in 1876. He’d hit a rich vein of asbestos, long known in Europe as a miraculous substance that could not be burned or damaged by fire. Within a few years, the Thetford area was the asbestos capital of the world, and Quebeckers called the fibres white gold.

And some are not willing to let that tarnished reputation go quietly. The owner of the Jeffrey Mine says his mine isn’t closed. Both the Jeffrey Mine and Lac d’amiante du Canada continue selling asbestos in their reserve inventories. A prominent Montreal asbestos trader is working to reopen the Jeffrey Mine, and there’s talk that production may resume in Spring 2012.

It’s time to support our northerly neighbors as they try to eradicate asbestos production from their country once and for all.  Join us in our effort to Ban Asbestos Now!