The Québec government said that it would buy 100,000 tonnes of asbestos-enriched bitumen this year, compared to 17,000 tonnes last year. The announcement comes only two months after the World Trade Organisation upheld a French ban on the importation of all asbestos, on health grounds (see related story), and after the European Union announced that it will introduce similar legislation from 2005 (see related story). The move brings relief to the asbestos industry, which had been fearful of its future in view of the international legislation.

Both the Canadian federal government and Québec Province are trying to alter the view that white asbestos is too dangerous for general use, with Québec establishing a ministerial committee to find new ways to promote the substance’s use. The provincial government says that the asbestos fibres will be coated in bitumen and will not escape, even when the road surface is broken up, and is supported in its move by other major political parties.

However, environmentalists are reportedly unconvinced by Québec’s announcement and say Canada is only interested in preserving its interests as the world’s second largest exporter of asbestos. In addition, most of the nation’s mining of the substance occurs in the Québec towns of Asbestos and Thetford Mines.

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