Asbestos mine faces bankruptcy

The Canadian Press, Wednesday 9 October 2002

ASBESTOS, Que.—The falling world price of asbestos has stopped production at one of the last asbestos mines in Quebec, which employed 320 workers, and forced the company into bankruptcy protection.

The directors of Jeffrey Mine blame production from Russia and Zimbabwe for the falling price for the fibre.

Union leaders were granted a meeting Wednesday with provincial Natural Resources Minister Francois Gendron to ask for government help to keep the mine open or at least get compensation for laid-off workers and retirees. Jeffrey Mine belongs to a consortium of investors including its workers.

The once-thriving asbestos mining industry in southeastern Quebec has been decimated mainly for health and environmental reasons.

Jeffrey Mine president Bernard Coulombe said the production at the mine has stopped, but he did not say it has closed. He said the company has put itself under bankruptcy protection to remain viable in the event the market comes back.

Coulombe said the price of asbestos has dropped because of cheaper production from countries such as Russia, Zimbabwe and Brazil.

Zimbabwe is our main problem, said Coulombe. They're almost in a civil war and their currency is devaluated. They're taking market share from us.

The Quebec mine produced about 125,000 tonnes a year, well below its capacity.

There are now only two operating mines left in Quebec, both in nearby Thetford Mines. They belong to LAB Crysotile, owned by a consortium of Canadian investors.

Denis Hamel, director of the Montreal-based Asbestos Institute, said Wednesday the two remaining mines produce about 180,000 tonnes, sold mainly in Asia.

Hamel said that in the last 20 years the market for asbestos has moved from the industrialized world, where it has been banned or restricted due to health concerns, to developing countries.

Hamel said that while production is much cheaper in Zimbabwe and Brazil because of their devalued currency, high inflation in those countries will eventually help restore the balance with production costs in Quebec.

The demand is still there, despite what people think about asbestos and its bad reputation.