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Mine shutdowns halt more than a century of asbestos production in Canada

When the Lac d'amiante du Canada mine in Quebec ceased operations earlier this month, it marked the first time in 130 years that no asbestos was being mined in Canada.


The work stoppage at the mine in the town of Thetford Mines follows the shutdown of the Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos, Quebec.


While industry supporters say that asbestos mining in Canada is far from dead, the future of both mines remains unclear. Lac d'amiante du Canada ceased operations in the face of operational problems with accessing the mineral. The mine’s owners are seeking permission from the provincial government to dig into a chrysotile deposit under a highway.


Meanwhile, Bernard Coulombe, president of the Jeffrey Mine, has been promised a $58 million loan guarantee by the Quebec government to expand the open-pit mine underground. However, the government assistance guarantee is contingent on the mine’s success in generating $25 million in private investments for the project.


Coulombe said he expects to reopen the Jeffrey Mine in the spring. He has insisted in news reports that neither his mine nor the one in Thetford Mines is closed, and that both are selling small amounts of asbestos from their inventories.


Canada was once the world’s top producer of asbestos, representing 85 percent of world production in the early 1900s. But the industry has been in steady decline for decades, since research first linked asbestos exposure to mesothelioma, a rare but fatal cancer, and lung disease.


According to the most recent data from the U.S. Geological Survey of mineral production, Canada’s share of global asbestos production in 2010 was about 5 per cent, or roughly 100,000 tons. About 90 percent of the 800-1,000 tons of asbestos imported by the United States, which stopped asbestos mining in 2002, comes from Canada.


The country has been under intense international pressure to stop exporting asbestos once and for all. Nearly 110,000 people worldwide die from asbestos-related diseases each year, according to the World Health Organization, and at least 55 countries, including the European Union, have banned the use of asbestos.


But poor and less-developed countries such as India and the Philippines continue to use the substance and rely on Canadian exports to meet demand.