A group of business co-operatives has raised $2 million to expand mining operations in the Quebec town that is home to the last two asbestos mines in Canada.

The money will go toward a $190-million plan to reopen an underground portion of the Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos, Que., allowing operations to continue there year-round.

The economic well-being of the region depends on the survival of the mine and the asbestos industry, said director of the Caisse Desjardins des Métaux blancs, Alain Boucher.

Over the past five years, more than 1,000 jobs have been lost in the region 200 kilometres east of Montreal, said Boucher.

Boucher said the expansion of operations at the Jeffrey Mine would help create or preserve 450 jobs.

The owners of the mine as well as the co-operative of mine workers have contributed $130 million toward the project.

Officials are also waiting for a response on a request for a $58-million loan from the provincial government.

The $2 million raised by local businesses will send a clear message that people in the region want this project to go ahead, said Asbestos Mayor Hugues Grimard.

The Quebec government has faced international criticism for its continued export of the mineral, also known as chrysotile.

Province’s position borderline racist: Indian group

Health authorities around the world have long advocated against the use of asbestos, which poses health risks when the fibres that make up the mineral get into the air that people breathe.

According to Health Canada, when inhaled in significant quantities, asbestos fibres can cause a scarring of the lungs that impedes breathing; mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the lining of the chest or abdominal cavity; and lung cancer.

The material, which was widely used in the construction and other industries between the 1950s and 70s, often as insulation, has been banned in many developed countries, including the 27 member states of the European Union. In Canada itself, its use is strictly controlled through the Hazardous Products Act.

Earlier this week, a member of an Indian health group accused Quebec Premier Jean Charest of borderline racism, because of his stance on exports to India.

In a letter written to Charest, Mohit Gupta of the Occupational and Environmental Health Network of India accused the premier of dismissing Indians as second-class citizens.

Quebec rarely uses asbestos in construction projects at home but exports the mineral to developing countries, said Gupta.

During a visit to India in February, Charest suggested it was up to other countries to put in place laws to protect their workers from the risks related to asbestos.

The asbestos industry fiercely defends the mineral and deems it perfectly safe as long as precautions are followed.