A country that was once the world’s top producer of mesothelioma-causing asbestos has stopped production for the first time in 130 years. Mining of the controversial mineral has come to a halt at Canada’s two remaining asbestos mines because of money and logistical problems.
Health officials around the world have been highly critical of Canada’s asbestos industry and its exportation policies because of the clear link between asbestos and deadly mesothelioma. Mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer of the tissue encasing the lungs and lining of the abdomen, is on the rise worldwide, especially in third-world countries where asbestos is still used as a cheap additive to building materials. Many of these countries are top importers of Canadian asbestos.
Canada once dominated the world in production of asbestos, which was highly prized for its fireproofing and insulating qualities until the link to mesothelioma became widely known in the 1970’s. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Canada produced 85% of the world’s asbestos in the 1900’s – 1.69 million metric tons at its peak in 1973. In 2010, the country produced about 100,000 metric tons – just 5% of the world supply. How many thousands of cases of mesothelioma were caused by the Canadian asbestos industry has never been reported. Now that production has stopped, the Canadian Press says the future of the country’s last two mines remains unclear.
One of the two mines, the Jeffrey Mine, needs a team of international investors and a bank loan guarantee of $58 million from the government of Quebec in order to start digging in a new section. If that project does begin, it is estimated that the mine could continue to produce asbestos for another 25 to 50 years. The Canadian Mining Journal reports that investors hope to resume production at the Jeffrey Mine in the spring of 2012.
The other mine, Lac d-amiante du Canada, is apparently having ‘operational problems’ accessing its asbestos after a massive rock slide that cut off access to the mine’s economically viable chrysotile. Work was stopped there earlier in the month.
Meanwhile, Canadian health experts, mesothelioma patients, and mesothelioma activists converged on the Canadian Parliament last week to press politicians to close the mines for good. They argue that asbestos safety standards in poorer countries are not high enough and say Canadian asbestos may put thousands at risk for mesothelioma in the next ten to twenty years.
Blatchford, Andy, “After 130 years, Canadian asbestos production quietly suspended”, November 25, 2011, The Canadian Press.
“Asbestos Minding: Canadian mines suspected”, November 28, 2011, Canadian Mining Journal.