Pandora’s field opens on Quebec’s lethal asbestos legacy

As an unbiased fee deepens its investigation into what needs to be executed with the mountains of asbestos-laced residues in Quebec’s former asbestos mining areas, a disturbing image is rising of the broader public well being risk that Quebec’s asbestos legacy poses.

The Bureau des audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) was given a ten-month mandate final fall to advise the federal government on whether or not the 800 million tonnes of tailings needs to be left undisturbed, levelled and coated with vegetation, or reprocessed to extract priceless commodities.

However the BAPE investigation is opening up the entire Pandora’s field of Quebec’s asbestos legacy, exposing the total impression of the lethal fibre within the mining areas and past for the primary time within the business’s 140-year historical past. It’s turning right into a reckoning.

“It’s concerning the selections Quebec made previously, when asbestos was our white gold,” Félix Lapan of the Union des travailleuses et travailleurs accidentés ou malades informed the fee. “We put it in all places, in all places. Now we’re caught with it in our buildings in the present day.

“We now have to maintain that in our heads within the selections we’re making in the present day about creating the mining residues. The dangerous selections of the previous, it’s the employees, the inhabitants, the sick people who find themselves paying for that. We now have to watch out we don’t make the identical selections in the present day. We now have to take a look at the historical past and if we would like the numbers (of useless and dying) to return down with time, we now have to make good selections in the present day.”

Asbestos was mined between 1870 and 2012 at greater than 20 totally different websites within the Estrie and Chaudière-Appalaches areas of Quebec. It’s in our properties, faculties, hospitals, roads and infrastructure.

Inhaling asbestos fibres was related to most cancers as early because the 1930s, and most developed nations banned its use a long time in the past.

Mountains of asbestos-laced tailings round Thetford Mines are an eyesore on the horizon, but in addition a hazard and a possible supply of financial renewal. Ought to they be left undisturbed, levelled and coated with vegetation, or reprocessed to extract priceless commodities?

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In 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lastly introduced a ban on the import, sale, use and export of asbestos and merchandise containing asbestos in Canada. However the ban, which got here into power in 2018, exempted asbestos residues, leaving the door open for firms within the former mining area to take advantage of the tailings.

A half-dozen firms are poised to make use of the residues as uncooked supplies, extracting priceless metals like magnesium, silica and manganese. Some wish to produce magnesium ingots for automobile manufacturing, others to make fertilizer, or sand, for reducing metal and sandblasting. The tailings nonetheless include asbestos fibres — about 20 per cent of their quantity, on common — however the firms declare the fibres are utterly destroyed in processing. So, they argue, these initiatives wouldn’t solely create wealth, they might remediate waste websites.

The residues characterize a major financial alternative. Entrepreneurs informed the fee that billions of stand to be made and a whole lot of jobs created in a area that desperately wants them.

However there’s concern that digging into and transporting the residues will ship lethal fibres into the air, thus placing the well being of employees and locals in danger. That’s why Premier François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec authorities requested the BAPE to research. The mandate was introduced in September and the fee, led by environmental toxicologist and public well being skilled Joseph Zayed, should ship its report back to the federal government by July 24.

The fee held eight days of hearings in Thetford Mines and Asbestos in December, and can be again in each cities this week for a second and last spherical, beginning Tuesday in Thetford Mines.

In January, the fee held 5 days of intensive classes in Quebec Metropolis which introduced collectively a veritable Who’s Who on asbestos from Quebec and around the globe. A few of these individuals have battled one another for many years however have hardly ever been in the identical room collectively.

Florence Loubier, a consultant of CATTARA, a well being and security group for injured employees within the Appalaches area, informed the fee that employees in her area want jobs, however in addition they need the federal government to ensure security measures are enforced.


In a single poignant change, for instance, a girl from Thetford Mines defended her area after a member of an asbestos victims’ group described the danger posed by even minimal asbestos publicity.

“After I hear what you might be telling me, it hurts,” stated Florence Loubier, a member of CATTARA, a help group for injured or in poor health employees within the Appalaches area.

Preventing tears, she stated she grew up enjoying within the tailings and that her brother, husband, father and each grandfathers had been asbestos miners. She spoke with pleasure of the miners’ lengthy combat for safer working circumstances and begged the fee to discover a stability between defending residents and employees from hurt whereas additionally respecting the area’s financial wants.

“Within the mines, they fought for that, they labored for that. To not shut down a city, to not shut down a area, however to wash issues up so we may dwell effectively there,” Loubier stated.

Daniel Inexperienced, scientific advisor to the Affiliation of Victims of Asbestos in Quebec (AVAQ), a bunch that has not at all times been effectively obtained within the mining cities, responded that AVAQ respects that historical past and the miners’ wrestle to redefine labour relations in Quebec.

“After we converse towards asbestos, we aren’t talking towards you,” Inexperienced informed Loubier. “You need to perceive that. We imagine that in Quebec, in 2020, we must always evolve and we don’t must sacrifice our well being for prosperity, that we must always be capable of have each well being and prosperity on the similar time.”

The hearings have been fascinating to this point. You possibly can watch these classes or learn the transcripts on the BAPE web site. Listed below are some gleanings:

Prized for its heat-resistant and strengthening qualities, asbestos was broadly utilized in Quebec.

Paul Chiasson /


Zero: There is no such thing as a stage of publicity to asbestos fibres that may be thought of protected, based on the newest science.

Worldwide, an estimated 255,000 deaths are attributed to asbestos every year, 233,000 of that are thought of to be resulting from work-related publicity.

Quebec permits its employees to be uncovered to extra asbestos fibres within the office than different jurisdictions: the restrict is one fibre per cubic centimetre of air. That’s 10 occasions greater than the restrict in the remainder of Canada, and 100 occasions greater than the norm in some European nations. Public well being specialists have been advocating for a decrease restrict right here for many years, and employees’ unions, comparable to FTQ Development, have lately joined that decision.

About 28,000 employees are manipulating asbestos-containing supplies on the job in Quebec. These employees are primarily within the fields of building, upkeep and renovation.

Between 2005 and 2015, 1,107 deaths from asbestos-related sicknesses had been confirmed in Quebec, which implies asbestos publicity was the reason for 85 per cent of all workplace-related deaths acknowledged by Quebec’s employees’ security company, the Fee des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST). On common every year, the CNESST confirms 250 diagnoses of asbestos-related sicknesses and 120 deaths from on-the-job asbestos publicity. Consultants informed the fee these stats are simply the tip of the iceberg.

Dying and sickness usually come a long time after asbestos publicity and plenty of employees don’t notice they had been uncovered. Many are refused compensation as a result of their employers contest their claims. The fee heard that deaths and sickness are under-reported by employees, under-diagnosed by docs and under-recognized by the CNESST.

Quebec compensates fewer employees for asbestos-related sicknesses than Ontario and British Columbia, in absolute numbers, though the mines had been right here and asbestos was extra closely utilized in Quebec than in different provinces. The CNESST doesn’t preserve monitor of what number of asbestos-related claims are refused.

Even when firms present one of the best accessible gear, employees find yourself respiration asbestos mud, a researcher informed the fee.

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About 50 per cent of the claims for asbestos-related sickness and demise at the moment are coming from building employees or their survivors. Prior to now, miners made up about 98 per cent of those that had been compensated.

Greater than 1,000 kilometres of roadways in Quebec are paved with asbestos asphalt. The apply of blending asbestos fibres into asphalt to extend its sturdiness started within the 1980s and continued till 2011. After 2002, when the Quebec authorities adopted an official coverage with the said objective of accelerating the usage of chrysotile asbestos throughout the province, the apply elevated considerably. Between 1988 and 2011, a complete of 1.34 million tonnes of asbestos asphalt was used on greater than 1,000 kilometres of Quebec roadways, approved by the province’s Transport Division, primarily within the Estrie area, in addition to the Centre-du-Québec, Bas-Saint-Laurent and Chaudière-Appalaches areas.

The price of pulling up asbestos asphalt when it must be changed is between $50 and $250 a tonne, or about 15 occasions the price of changing standard asphalt. Particular gear and employee safety measures are required, and the asphalt have to be trucked to a specialised dump for disposal. The Transport Division has developed a method to stabilize the asbestos mud by including a binding substance throughout removing. Its plan is to finally set up about 20 websites across the province the place this stabilized waste can be utilized to construct everlasting freeway infrastructure, comparable to wind screens, or to shore up embankments. Websites can be chosen alongside roadways unlikely to require future enlargement or reconfiguration.

Asbestos removing is just too typically executed by uncertified firms or householders who don’t perceive the danger, stated Gilles Mercier, president of AVAQ. He pointed to what he known as exemplary public consciousness campaigns performed by WorkSafeBC, and instructed Quebec ought to comply with that lead.

Greater than 1,000 kilometres of roadways in Quebec are paved with asbestos asphalt. The apply of blending asbestos fibres into asphalt to extend its sturdiness started within the 1980s and continued till 2011.

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QMI Company

Protecting gear for building and renovation employees isn’t as efficient as we’d assume, Micheline Marier, an asbestos researcher who now works with AVAQ, informed the fee. In her analysis, she visited asbestos removing worksites and interviewed employees. She discovered that even when firms present one of the best accessible gear, employees find yourself respiration asbestos mud.

“They informed me the toughest factor was to drink water. These guys work for hours on building websites sporting a go well with and a masks, the entire deal. It’s very popular and it’s very bodily work eradicating asbestos. In order that they get thirsty, however if you wish to drink water, it’s a must to go away the location and to go away the location, it’s a must to do the entire process of showering and many others. What they informed me was there was an off-the-cuff settlement between (administration) and employees that as an alternative of taking a morning break and a day break, in addition to a lunch hour, they might take an extended lunch break in order to not must take a bathe 4 occasions, however solely two. What this meant was that they might be on the location for 5 hours with out consuming water. So what the blokes would do was convey their very own bottle of water and at sure factors simply take away their masks and take a drink of water.”

CNESST inspectors typically forewarn employers they are going to be exhibiting as much as examine work websites.

Authorized penalties for employers who’re caught reducing corners on asbestos safety are decrease in Quebec than in different provinces. An employer who deliberately exposes a employee to asbestos is liable to a advantageous of $68,721 right here. In Ontario, the advantageous is $1.5 million and one yr in jail. In Alberta, it’s $500,000 plus $30,000 per day (of publicity), plus one yr in jail.