Biofuel from Asbestos Mining Waste?

Mountains of asbestos mining waste could be transformed into lush greenery, and a source of biocrops under a federal government plan in Quebec, according to internal documents.

The Canadian Press report that Ottawa is digging into tailings in the heart of Canada’s asbestos country to see if they could one day yield plants, and even sprout biofuel crops.

The Natural Resources Canada project in Thetford Mines – a small town s in south central Quebec, famed for its asbestos deposits -also aims to determine if it’s worthwhile to extract minerals buried in the community’s waste sites. However, stirring up these mounds, which contain the mineral’s carcinogenic fibres, could be hazardous to people in the area, according to internal government documents.

“There is the risk of remobilizing chrysotile asbestos fibres during the rehabilitation of the site,” said a project document prepared for the Natural Resources Department.

“This could pose a risk to people in the area and the ecosystem.” The documents were obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

Towering mountains of tailings have long shadowed Thetford Mines, which has been an international leader in asbestos production for decades. The town proudly called itself the “asbestos capital of the world” before science discovered that the substance poses serious health risks to humans.
Through the Thetford Mines studies, Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis is trying to paint the piles of grey asbestos tailings a shade of green.

Paradis, whose riding encompasses Thetford Mines, announced two feasibility studies last summer – at a total cost of $600,000.

The projects are funded by Ottawa’s $8-million green mining initiative, which aims to improve the sector’s environmental performance and create green economic opportunities.

In Thetford Mines, one study will assess the fertility of the mounds, while the other will identify minerals of “economic interest” still locked inside.

Briefing documents addressed to Paradis show the government is mulling a third project to convert the waste sites into agricultural land for biofuel crops.

But the internal lab report stresses that more scientific information is needed before any vegetation projects can proceed.

“At this point there appears to be minimal ecological risk associated with the site as it currently exists,” the document said of the piles of tailings.

“However, it is unclear at this stage to what extent the site has been studied from an ecological perspective.”

According to The Canadian Press, one vocal opponent of Canada’s asbestos industry, which is now confined to operations in Thetford Mines and the nearby town of Asbestos, said extraction could be an option as long as precautions are taken to protect workers.