A town called Asbestos ... by name and by nature

FEW people outside Canada have heard of the dot on the map called Asbestos.

FEW people outside Canada have heard of the dot on the map called Asbestos.

But, for a small town, Asbestos has been the subject of a big controversy over the past few years. Located between Montreal and Quebec in eastern Canada, Asbestos was once the site of the world's largest asbestos mine, the two-kilometre-wide hole in the ground known as the Jeffrey Mine.

Asbestos has been phased out of most Western countries over the past decade. The material was banned in Australia in 2003, with European countries following in 2005. It is allowed for limited purposes in the US and Canada.

But asbestos is still used in large quantities in developing countries and the Canadian government has repeatedly come under fire for exporting the material to countries such as India and China. Canada has argued that the asbestos mineral being exported, chrysotile, is safe when properly handled.

The Jeffrey Mine closed last year for financial reasons, but the local government of Quebec is trying to lure investment to fund a reopening.

The Jeffrey Mine's president, Bernard Coulombe, complained the negative image of asbestos was bad for business. "We are so criticised, so misunderstood,

so tarnished," he said this month.

The World Health Organisation estimates 107,000 people die each year from asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis as a result of exposure at work.

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