A new study by Quebec's Public Health Department questions if asbestos can be safely handled, even by workers who take precautions.

The study examined 3,000 air samples taken from worksites that were considered at elevated risk for asbestos exposure.

It found that 43 per cent of the sites had concentrations of the cancer-causing fibres that met or exceeded the limit.

"What (the study) shows is that even though in Quebec we have norms, active laws, inspectors and also the availability of protective gear . . . it's (still) very difficult to adhere to the norms," said Louise Souliere, public-health director for a central Quebec region that is home to one of Canada's last asbestos mines.

"So, this means that even the workers who know they're working with asbestos are sometimes at risk."

The study highlights that Quebec's occupational asbestos exposure limit allows for 10 times more airborne fibres than other Canadian provinces, and it's 100 times more than some European countries.

Asbestos has been linked to cancer although supporters say it can be used safely, even in developing countries.

Political hot potato

The study was released as the Quebec government mulls over whether to give a controversial $58-million bank-loan guarantee to extend the life of the Jeffrey Mine in the town of Asbestos.

Quebec politicians have traditionally supported the province's embattled chrysotile asbestos industry, and Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe recently discovered that opposing it can sometimes be treacherous.


Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe called for a thorough review of the asbestos mining industry during a campaign stop Sunday. ((Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press))

Only weeks after saying the substance could be used safely in Quebec, Duceppe expressed his support Sunday  for a call to hold a provincial legislative committee to take a closer look at just how safe it is.

But Duceppe changed his tune again Monday, stating the mineral could be manipulated safely in the province.

"We're not afraid, we know that it's secure," he said. "It's not the same thing as the asbestos in the 1940s, chrysotile is much different."

Bloc MP André Bellavance, who represented the riding that encompasses Asbestos, is seeking another mandate.

The Conservatives, who have long supported Quebec's asbestos industry, said Sunday that Duceppe's comments hurt the region.