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Written by Kim Milan

As most people are now aware, asbestos is a highly toxic material causing a number of respiratory diseases such as pleural thickening, asbestosis, mesothelioma and asbestos induced lung cancer, the latter two of which are fatal conditions.

It is fair to say that the word “asbestos” brings an immediate concern to the forefront of everyone’s mind if it is heard.

However, in Quebec, Canada, there is a town called Asbestos which was famous for its asbestos mines where millions of tons of asbestos were mined and exported.

About Asbestos, Quebec

Asbestos is a town in the Estrie region of southeastern Quebec, Canada on the Nicolet River.

Asbestos is the seat of Les Sources Regional County Municipality, formerly known as the Asbestos Regional County Municipality. The town covers an area of 29.67 square kilometers.

Approximately 7,000 people reside in Asbestos.

The Jeffrey mine in asbestos, until recently was the world’s largest asbestos mine and was for many years the town’s largest employer. Locals referred to its asbestos as “white gold” due to the wealth earned from the mine.

Current asbestos mining in the town

In late 2011, the Jeffrey mine which was one of Canada’s last two asbestos mines (both in the Province of Quebec) halted operations.

In June 2012, a $58 million loan was promised by the Quebec government to restart and operate the Jeffrey mine for a period of 20 years.

However, in September 2012, the Parti Québécois defeated the Quebec Liberal Party in the Quebec provincial election.  Fortunately Parti Québécois followed through with an election promise to halt asbestos mining, to cancel the $58 million loan, and put funding toward economic diversification in the area.

The halt on asbestos mining came as a devastating blow to many, the town even had a “pro-asbestos advocacy group” which campaigned for the mine to re-open stating that asbestos was safe to mine.

The asbestos mine today

Today mining at the Jeffrey Mine is halted, but scarily the mine is now used for quad biking activities.

Quad biking in any mine would cause a lot of dust to be kicked up, quad biking in an asbestos mine in our opinion is extremely reckless.

Moving forward

The (former) Parti Quebecois government in 2012, after it cancelled the $58 million loan promised to help the town re-develop itself. With this in mind a $50 million fund was given to the town by the parti.

The fund was used to re-generate the image of the town and attract new businesses to the area.  The strategy worked with businesses such as “Brome Lake Ducks” investing $30 million to create a new processing plant and hatchery in the town. The plant produced approximately 150 new jobs in the town.

Other new businesses included a pharmaceutical company, a cheese factory and a microbrewery with beer names such as “La Mineur” (“The Miner”), “L’Or Blanc” (“White Gold”) and “La 1949” (“The 1949”) after the year of the towns famous asbestos strike.

For the sake of image, all the mine’s buildings that were not in use were demolished.

The town name

In essence, as the town of Asbestos no longer mines the deadly mineral, only the town name (apart from its aptly named beers) serves as a reminder of its mining past. Town officials have considered changing the name of the town, though equally they feel it is important to remember the history of the town.

Previously the Jeffrey mine employed approximately 2000 people and the mine was essential for funding the town to include the building of new communal and social properties, providing much needed funds for the local church and in providing funds for the towns schools and sports teams. It is with this mind the town officials are reluctant to change the town name.