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Mining exec wants Canadian government to challenge data on asbestos deaths

The president of a Canadian asbestos-mining operation says estimates by the World Health Organization that asbestos-related disease kills 100,000 people every year is a “fantasy,” and he wants the Canadian government to help him challenge the figures.


Bernard Coulombe, president of the Jeffrey Mine in Quebec, told The Canadian Press the numbers are exaggerated and not supported by scientific data.


“Where are those deaths? And name at least 10 of those deaths,” said Coulombe, whose company was forced to halt production last year because of financial problems. "It's absolutely a fantasy."


According to WHO estimates, more than 107,000 people die each year from asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis. About 25 million people are exposed to the mineral on the job, the agency says, and it estimates that one in every three deaths from occupational cancer is caused by asbestos.


Coulombe told The Canadian Press that WHO has not responded to his requests for evidence to support the asbestos-related death figures. He said he will ask the Canadian government to urge the organization to provide scientific proof. “This bad publicity hurts us enormously as a corporation,” he said


The Jeffrey Mine ceased production in November, shortly after workers at the country’s only other asbestos mine, Lac d'amiante du Canada mine in Thetford, Quebec, stopped digging, citing operational difficulties.


It was the first time in 130 years that no asbestos was being mined in Canada.


Coulombe has said he expects the Jeffrey Mine to reopen this spring. The Quebec government has promised a $58 million loan guarantee to expand the open-pit mine underground, but the guarantee is contingent on Coulombe securing $25 million in private investment.


Victims advocates and health officials have long called for Canada to join the more than 50 countries that have banned or restricted the use of asbestos. The country once produced 85 percent of the world’s supply, but the industry has been in steady decline for decades. The country’s exports are now almost solely directed to developing nations, such as India, where asbestos-related death and illness are expected to rise over the next few decades.