Zimbabwe could re-open asbestos mines

Some Zimbabwe residents support re-opening of old Shabanie-Mashaba asbestos mines, despite health activists asking pres Mugabe to stop asbestos mining.

Unemployed Zimbabweans claim that ‘mismanagement’ of Zvishavane asbestos mines had cost 3500 parents and 8000 children their income and future.

An international group of doctors, scientists, labour leaders and health organisations have asked Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe to stop reopening of two old asbestos mines.

A similar pro and anti asbestos battle in Canada centres around employment and chrysotile, a safer white variant of killer brown asbestos, reports IF Press.

Asbestos variants

Standard reference asbestos (UICC) samples include the variants chrysotile, amosite, anthophylite, and crocidolite. Chrysotile consists predominantly of hydrous silicates of magnesia. Regional variants could differ in fibre size, exposure risk and health risks.

Canadian chrysotile was processed mainly by the companies Bells, Carey, Cassair, Flintkote, Johns-Manville, Lake, Normandie and National.

Rhodesian (Zimbabwean) chrysotile was mined mainly in Zvishavane region at Shabani or Shavani, Matabeleland South.

Asbestos workers unemployed

Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper and his government supports re-opening of Jeffrey asbestos mine in the town Asbestos, in Quebec state, and were criticised for being “reprehensive and retrogressive” in terms of sheq ideals.

The World Health Organisation, the International Labour Organisation and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) have called for a global end to use of any form of asbestos, since the industry had led to the deaths and chronic disabilities of thousands of workers from cancer and asbestosis, a respiratory disease.

Canada’s Harper government had recently blocked an international agreement to restrict the sale of chrysotile asbestos, arguing for its many uses, economic value, and relative safety if handled correctly.

Activists believe that African mine operators, processors and workers are at risk of not using appropriate and safe methods and equipment for preventing exposure to asbestos and risk of developing respiratory diseases.

Activists also believe that African workers should be protected against the risk of some mines and some processors exploiting the remaining international market for asbestos, and not following stringent safety and legislation requirements.

Some African countries are known to ‘handle hazardous materials without proper caution’ and ‘not put the same value on human life’, reports IF Press.

Canada supports asbestos miners

Quebec state government under premier Jean Charest had given Bernard Coulombe, owner of Jeffrey Mine in the town Asbestos, Quebec, a $58-million loan guarantee to find new investors.

Mine owner Coulombe likened asbestos to ‘a family with some bad kids’, arguing chrysotile was the least dangerous of asbestos varieties. “They say we are exporting death, but that is not true,” he said.

“If it was as dangerous as they say, we would all be dead.” Mining, handling and processing safety has improved significantly since the ‘bad old days’ of brown asbestos mining in Canada and in the karoo region of South Africa.

Chrysotile asbestos is considered a safe product if handled and labeled properly. Canada says the industrial and commercial world is filled with hazardous materials and solvents that demand similar precautions, so chrysotile should not be singled out.

A doctor based in the town Asbestos, with a population oaf about 8000, said the “rate of exposure to chrysotile fibres today is infinitesimally small.” Dr Gilles Morin said he was “fed up with being treated like an imbecile or a contract killer because I support asbestos.”

PHOTO; Rhodesian (Zimbabwean) chrysotile (A), sampled in Zvishavane region at Shabani or Shavani in Matabeleland south. Canadian chrysotile (B) sampled from former processors Bells, Carey, Cassair, Flintkote, Johns-Manville, Lake, Normandie and National. Samples illustrate physical and exposure risk variety among asbestos types.

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