Workers Health & Safety Centre

Quebec action triggers federal reversal on asbestos

Quebec’s Premier-elect, Pauline Marois, has announced her government will cancel a $58 million loan guarantee to the owners of Jeffrey mine, the province’s last working asbestos mine.

With Quebec largely shutting down the mine, National Industry Minister, Christian Paradis, announced the federal government would no longer veto efforts to have chrysotile asbestos listed as a hazardous substance under the United Nations Rotterdam Convention. Exporters of substances listed under the Convention must label their products, warn of restrictions and bans and provide safe handling information.

The Jeffery Mine was once the world’s largest open pit asbestos mine. In 2010, Canada produced 150,000 tonnes of asbestos, all of it from Quebec, and most of it exported to developing countries like India and Pakistan.

Asbestos related disease
Asbestos is classified as a known human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Work-related asbestos disease kills more than 107,000 every year according to the World Health Organization. Worldwide 125 million are exposed to asbestos at work.

Asbestos exposure can cause lung scarring, lung cancer and mesothelioma, a cancer that invades the lining of the chest and abdomen. Symptoms and disease develop over decades making diagnosis and links to workplace exposures difficult.

Despite a decades old ban on asbestos use in many industrialized nations, the legacy of its workplace and community exposures continues to take a toll. Ontario researchers anticipate 500 new asbestos-related cancer cases annually for the next 10 years.

Just transition strategy
More than 50 countries, including the European Union, have banned the use and sale of asbestos. Canadian labour, environmental and health groups have long called for a Canadian ban on asbestos too, but with guarantees of funds and re-training for those most affected. A just transition strategy helps create sustainable, healthy industries and eases the burden on workers and communities when targeted industries close.

Both the Quebec and federal governments are pledging to invest millions of dollars in Quebec’s Eastern Townships region to help it transition to a more diversified economy.

The consortium that owns Jeffrey Mine says they intend to refinance and reopen the mine next year providing jobs for 300 to 400 workers in the area.

Want to read an occupational exposure profile on asbestos?

Want to read a fact sheet on the incidence of mesothelioma in Ontario?

Want to read the Canadian Labour Congress paper Just Transition for Workers during Environmental Change?

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