A Day at the infamous mine in August 2021
Location of the Mine Lookout Point
Located in Val des Sources (the formerly named Asbestos) Quebec. Which is part of the Eastern Township region of the province. It is approximately a 45 minute drive from Sherbrooke or a two hour drive from Montreal. The mine is known as the Jeffrey mine ( or Johns-Manville mine), named after a local farmer who formally initiated mining in the area, near the end of the 1800’s. Royalties were paid by weight for asbestos.
Arriving at the lookout point
The mine lookout point is at the edge of Val de Source, Quebec. It is on the border of a residential community and there are houses just across the road. The lookout point is surrounded by lush greenery which keeps the lookout platform hidden from the road. The entrance is marked with flags on the street that denote the historical importance to the community. There is a large, green excavator bucket on display and by standards from the era it’s massive. Great care has been taken to set up the displays, please do not touch any of the geological samples if you choose to visit in the future.
Asbestos, Quebec no longer
For years, the name of this well established town wore the stigma that comes with asbestos exposure and related illness. That all officially changed in late 2020 when a new name was chosen to reflect a new beginning for the struggling town. Val des Sources was chosen by the 2800 residents of the town in a vote in October 2020. The story made worldwide news and was followed by a variety of global publications like The Washington Post, The BBC and The New York Times.
A first hand account of the town was that it had a variety of services including a large grocery store (called Maxi), excellent transportation infrastructure that was well maintained and a variety of modest homes. The town absolutely reflects the hardworking nature that it was built upon when incorporated (as a village in 1899) and as a town in 1937. Many new commercial businesses could be seen starting up on the highway corridors that border the town. Be it the pandemic or the rebrand, there are signs of expansion and a bustling local economy.
The Area Around the Mine
Common Geological Formations Found in the Area
Apple green or dark green in color, pyroxenite is essentially composed of a dark mineral rich in iron and magnesium often visible in fairly large crystals: pyroxene. Sample was in excellent condition with little weathering or deterioration.
Slates are metamorphic rocks (rocks that have undergone one or more transformations after their original formation). Slatess are rocks that easily divide into sheets. This specimen is in folded slate schist with quartz veins. The traces of rust are due to the oxidation of iron sulphides. The Jeffrey mine deposit sits on a bed of slate shale and is covered by a slate roof.
Yellowish green rock where the original component has been transformed into serpentine. It often contains chromite. The sample was in fair condition with one side evidently fractured as the face seemed exposed but not deteriorating.
Dark green in color, serpentinized peridotite is the parent rock of the mineral mined at the Jeffrey mine. The serpentinization process of the original peridotite produced different varieties of serpentine. The fibrous variety is known under the name chrysotile. Chrysotile was used in the vast majority of asbestos containing building materials in North America.
This rock is almost completely composed of a mineral called albite. Usually white in color, albitite is one of the essential constituents of granites.
Rodingite is a mesomatic rock usually very close to other rock that is undergone the serpentinization process because rodingites are a by-product of this. They usually contain high amounts of calcium and low amounts of silica by their composition can vary greatly. This sample was beginning to flake apart and given the proximity to serpentine rock it's advised not to disturb in any way.
The Town was Displaced by the mine
“The mine grows, the city moves
Since its inception, the Jeffrey mine has been essentially a pit mine. To await new mineral deposits it has to be periodically enlarged.
Every time the diameter of the mine increases, the oldest parts of the city disappear. Entire streets must be relocated. Hundreds of buildings are demolished. Others have moved. The relocation of buildings becomes a local specialty.” (Translated from photo)
Semi Precious Stones Found!
“A mine of treasures
The Jeffrey mine contains over 60 different minerals. According to specialists, it is closing up real treasures.
For example, there are semi-precious stones such as garnet, vesuivianite and jade (nephrite variety).” (Translated from photo)
Asbestos was once Thought of as a Magic Mineral
“Chrysotile has exceptional properties. It is resistant to heat, fire, wear and chemical substances. It is a good thermal, electrical and acoustic insulator. Its silky fibers prevent being spun and woven. They also prevent being added to other substances such as cotton, resin, cement or paper. Its unique characteristics have earned it the nickname of magical mineral.
At its peak, chrysotile fiber was used in over 3000 products! Today, fibers are still used in many areas:
- Construction. (asbestos containing cement board-known as transite by Johns Manville)
- Textile (fire resistant papers and automotive applications like firewalls)
- The automobile (friction gaskets and brake pads)
- Transport (integrated with other materials such as asphalt)
THIS IS NOT CORRECT ASBESTOS IS BANNED IN CANADA BUT COULD BE TRUE FOR SOME DEVELOPING NATIONS
Chrysotile from the Jeffrey mine was used for the launch of NASA space shuttles and the space probes to Venus and Jupiter in 1989.
Also played a role in the first construction of the International Space Station in 1998 and 1999. (I hope this was safely abated).” (Partially translated from photo)
Thetford Mines Museum
There is a museum at the neighbouring asbestos mine which also produced vast amounts of chrysotile. The museum is only open during the summer season. It is approximately an hour and fifteen minute drive from the Jeffrey mine lookout point and comes with a cost of between $15-25 for adults. Though children 5 and under are free admission.
The future of the Jeffrey Mine
In 2020, operations at the mine initiated, once again by a magnesium extraction company called Alliance Magnesium. They have developed industrial processes that will eliminate all asbestos fibres from the finished product. The raw tailings were tested to show up to 2% fibre content and controls appear to be in place to prevent exposure when handling these.
They do go on to say that they don’t work with asbestos and it was removed from the tailings but this would be nearly impossible and their 2% fibre content analysis results of the tailings still represent some exposure risk. With proper containment and personal protective equipment the risk to any workers would be eliminated. Training certifications for asbestos given to all workers would further prevent any exposure. This industrial process does create a unique opportunity to be fully automated and contained, however. Utilization of both robotics and other mining equipment that does not require human operators could not only increase production but prevent any possibility of exposure.