Industry members debate the severity of asbestos exposure, mine reopeningEach year, 125 million people are exposed to asbestos and 107,000 die of mesothelioma and related respiratory diseases, according to the World Health organization. Yet, those figures may rise considerably in the future, now that Quebec has used public funds to reopen the Jeffrey Mine. According to the Montreal Gazette, the mine - which is the world's largest source of toxic asbestos - will produce 250,000 tons of the fiber for export each year for the next two decades.
Recently, in separate editorials on the subject, a pair of mining industry experts clashed over whether it is a good idea to reopen the Jeffrey and ship millions of pounds of asbestos abroad.
The poorest of investments
The first opinion piece appeared on July 18, written by Alana Wilson, a senior research analyst at the Fraser Institute's Global Center for Mining Studies. She explained that even though all major public health agencies condemn the use of any form of asbestos, Canadian politicians decided to invest in the Jeffrey anyway.
Why? She pointed to the money trail.
Wilson revealed that the Quebec government has donated $200,000 a year to the Chrysotile Institute, a lobbying group headed by G. Bernard Coulombe, the president of the Jeffrey Mine. Similarly, Ottawa has given the organization $20 million over 14 years.
Even Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is known to have given $50,000 a year to the Institute until last year, as reported by the Globe and Mail.
But will this money, plus the $58 million in taxpayer funds, plus millions more in private backing pay off? Wilson said no.
She calculated that the mine will create just 500 new jobs, while producing a mineral that is banned in 55 countries (and counting).
The poorest of victims
In response, industry member John Aylen argued that the Jeffrey will be very profitable. Calling Wilson's piece an "argument based on misconceptions and half-truths," Aylen wrote in the Gazette that chrysotile asbestos (the mine's main form of ore) is safe and highly profitable.
"Chrysotile asbestos is in high demand as an effective, low-cost and safe material used in the production of cement roofing tiles and pipes," he said. "Throughout the developing world (60 per cent of the world's population), the need and ability to put a low-cost roof over the heads of the poorest of the poor is steadily increasing."
A few clarifications:
- Aylen is the spokesperson for the Jeffrey Mine.
- All major public health organizations consider chrysotile asbestos to be as carcinogenic as any other kind. No credible scientific organization considers it "safe."
- Most of the world's victims of mesothelioma and asbestos exposure are poor, have little or no political sway and live in developing nations with few asbestos regulations, as Aylen himself all but points out.
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