Canada invests $12m to extract magnesium from asbestos tailings

Canada’s federal government unveiled this week the final part of its plans to ban the use and sale of asbestos in the country by the end of the year.

The regulations, to come into effect on Dec. 30, also prohibit the manufacturing, import, trade and use of most products containing the mineral. However, they do not apply to residues left from mining asbestos, which in Canada include about 800 million tonnes of residue near mines in the Quebec towns of Thetford Mines and Asbestos.

But authorities expect to take care of that soon, starting with a $12 million-investment in Alliance Magnesium, a company that has developed a method to extract magnesium from asbestos tailings and hopes to sell the metal to auto parts makers and aerospace manufacturers.

Canada's rules on asbestos don't prohibit mining activities and won't apply to structures or products that already contain the mineral.

“Today's investment will help ensure Alliance Magnesium is well positioned to become a global leader in clean technology solutions for the mining sector, which will create well-paying jobs, support the Canadian economy and help Canada meet its climate change goals,” Minister of International Development Marie-Claude Bibeau said in a statement.

The funding is being provided by Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC), which works with Canadian companies to bring clean technologies to market.

Asbestos mines were the main economic driver in both regions for decades until concerns about health impacts of asbestos collapsed the market. The last mine in Canada, in Thetford Mines, ceased operations in 2011.

As much as 40 percent of the leftover rock still contains the carcinogenic material.

Asbestos-related lung disease has been the leading cause of occupational death in Canada for the last quarter century, according to Ontario-based Workers Health & Safety Centre. New cases of mesothelioma, an asbestos-linked lung cancer, have been rising for decades. At least 510 Canadians died of mesothelioma in 2016.

Today’s move aligns with recommendations received from industry leaders, as outlined in the Clean Technology Economic Strategy Table's report, to address gaps in scale-up financing that will accelerate the growth of Canadian clean technology companies, the government said.

Investments in clean technology are also part of the Government of Canada's Innovation and Skills Plan, a multi-year strategy that is positioning Canada to be a global centre for innovation, creating good middle-class jobs right across the country.

Last year, Canada provided over $2.3 billion to help clean technology firms grow and expand.