Asbestos Industry: History in Quebec

Why the asbestos industry was so important?

The history of asbestos industry spans three centuries. This mineral called ‘ white gold ‘ was discovered in Quebec in the late 19th century. The first mine was opened in 1879 in the name of Murphy mine in Thetford Mines. Then another mine in Asbestos was discovered and became operable in 1881.

In the 20th century, asbestos has become a thriving industry and generated significant gains for the province of Quebec. In the 30s, United Kingdom was the first country to adopt a regulation on asbestos dust in factories after a first diagnosis of asbestos-related cancer was documented.

Then United Kingdom class asbestosis among compensable occupational diseases. In the 40s, the United States of America follow the same procedure and enact regulations on factories dust in 1949.

This sent shock waves throughout the province of Quebec and from February 13 to June 23, 1949 a major illegal general strike was triggered by Thetford-mines and Asbestos mines workers.

They claimed better wages, participation in business management and protection against asbestos dust at the workplace. In late June, early July 1949, the strike ended and resulted in a meager wage increase, without taking measures to protect workers from asbestos dust as is the case in the United States of America and United Kingdom.

It was only in 1975 that the industry adopts rules for safe handling of asbestos in Quebec. Following the strike occurred in the same year by the CSN affiliated Thetford- Mines employees. In 1978, asbestos was declared carcinogenic by a European community resolution. Meanwhile in Quebec, the National Society of asbestos was created by Quebec government. Its mission was to participate in the exploitation and processing of asbestos in Quebec, as well as finding new business opportunities.

In the early 90s, Quebec was the only producer of asbestos in Canada as British Columbia and Newfoundland & Labrador have closed their mines. December 26, 1996, France became the eighth country to ban the use of asbestos in its territory. In 1999, the United Kingdom infringes his footsteps. The European Union announced that from 2005, the use of asbestos will be banned on their entire territories.

The 21st century began a lot of controversy in Quebec about the asbestos industry production and exportation. While countries prohibit this mineral in their territory, Quebec continues to defend it. Indeed, June 22, 2011, Canada imposed its veto so that asbestos is not included in the list of dangerous goods listed in Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention of the United Nations. In Canada, sales of chrysotile were estimated at $ 90 million / year.

February 16, 2012, the International Cancer Research Centre, an agency of the World Health Organization concluded that asbestos is carcinogenic in all its forms. Fifty eight countries including countries member of the European Union and the United States of America have banned or restricted the use of asbestos in their territories. It was only in September 2012, the Canadian government announced that he will no longer oppose the inclusion of asbestos in the list of hazardous substances in Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention as he did it previously 3 times. So, until today Quebec and therefore Canada has not banned the use of asbestos in their territories. They believe that this product is not dangerous if it is produced and handled safely.

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