Health check advised for asbestos workers

Yukoners who worked at or lived near the Cassiar asbestos mine should watch for signs of cancer. The mine, located just south of the Yukon-B.C. border, operated for nearly 40 years before closing in the early 1990s.

Yukoners who worked at or lived near the Cassiar asbestos mine should watch for signs of cancer.

The mine, located just south of the Yukon-B.C. border, operated for nearly 40 years before closing in the early 1990s. Over 50,000 people worked there, with many coming from the Yukon. At its peak, the mine produced an average of 380 tonnes of asbestos fibre a day.

The mineral was once widely used as a fireproof insulator. But its tiny, needle-like fibres easily become airborne, and today, it’s known that inhaling asbestos can lead to terminal cancer.

New CT scans can detect tumours much earlier, which can prolong patients’ lives, said Lee Loftus with the asbestos union in B.C.

Asbestos exposure can also contribute to heart problems and gastrointestinal diseases.

“There’s no safe level of exposure, and that’s irrefutable, contrary to the federal government saying there’s safe ways to use it, but there really isn’t,” he said.

Canada currently exports asbestos to be mixed with building materials in developing countries.

Former Cassiar employees should tell their doctors if they worked at the mine and note any breathing problems they may have, he said.

Workers with concerns should file a complaint with the Workers’ Compensation Board of B.C., even if they now live elsewhere, said Loftus.

Workers at the Cassiar mine did not have adequate safety equipment, he said.

Many of the hazards of asbestos were not known at the time, said Jim Williams who worked at the mine for six months in early 1970s. Williams was on the union executive while he was there, and worked with health and safety.

Conditions were “certainly unhealthy,” he said. “It took a very long time to get a dust mask.”

The company denied the risks of asbestos exposure, said Williams. He did not see any significant changes to workplace health and safety while he was there, he said.

It wasn’t just workers who were affected by the mine. It was located on top of a mountain and “you saw this haze of dust covering the town, floating down the valley,” he said.

“The dust was everywhere.”

Workers’ family members may also be at risk, said Loftus. The company knew about the risks to workers, he said.

“This was about greed and money.”

Williams, who has recently incorporated his experiences into a novel, Rock Reject, agrees. The company caused harm “for the sake of its bottom line,” he said.

“It’s an industry whose time has come,” he said.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at mgillmore@yukon-news.com

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