Asbestos industry can’t survive without government props, critics argue

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

Critics are saying the federal and Quebec governments should finally pull the plug on the province's asbestos industry, which possibly rivals the seal hunt as an international black mark against Canada.

The cancer-causing fibrous mineral has been banned in most developed countries but producers still see a market in some developing countries such as India and Indonesia, where it is used to strengthen cement products, the Globe and Mail reports.

Asbestos has been mined in Quebec for more than a century and was popular as a fire retardant and insulator, among other things. But cancer links have spurred its removal from buildings and reduced the once-vibrant industry to a financially shaky shell.

"Production at one mine has been halted until it can get refinancing, and another miner — Thetford Mines, Que.-based LAB Chrysotile —filed for bankruptcy Wednesday, leaving no active operations in Canada," the Globe's Bertrand Marotte reported Thursday.

Asbestos industry supporters argue that chrysotile asbestos is safe when used properly.

"I'm convinced we can relaunch the mine. We're going to push for a plan of action, talk to all the players," Simon Dupéré, president of LAB Chrysotile, told the Globe.

But the Rideau Institute's Kathleen Ruff said the sector can't survive without the backing of the federal and Quebec governments.

"The industry is totally bankrupt, but it continues to lobby to get public funds to save itself," she said.

Ottawa has been fighting to ensure asbestos is not added to a United Nations blacklist for hazardous chemicals.

Ruff, who wrote a book about Canada's asbestos export sector, said in a letter to the Calgary Herald that even supposed safe uses of asbestos present a long-term hidden hazard. Government should let the industry die.

"After 130 years, the asbestos industry is finally bankrupt, dead and shut down in Canada," she wrote. "It should not be revived."

Canada's position on asbestos exports has become an object of international ridicule, skewered by no less an outlet than the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.