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Duceppe wades into debate on safety of asbestos mining during campaign stop

Bloc quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe, right, responds to media questions while standing near the Hyatt falls following a nomination meeting Sunday, April 3, 2011, in Sherbrooke Que.

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press/Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe has joined a growing chorus of critics calling for a closer look into the safety of asbestos mining.

Mr. Duceppe waded into the debate during a campaign stop Sunday in Quebec's Eastern Townships, not far from an asbestos mine the provincial government is considering helping stay open.

"We need to have a thorough scientific review on this," Mr. Duceppe said in Sherbrooke, Que.

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Mr. Duceppe said he supports a demand from the Parti Quebecois for a Quebec legislature committee on asbestos.

He said asbestos should only be exported to countries with safety standards comparable to those in Quebec and the industry should be monitored by government and union-mandated inspectors.

The comments come at a crossroads for the embattled industry.

Quebec's Liberal government must decide whether to provide a loan guarantee that would extend the life of the Jeffrey Mine, one of Canada's last remaining asbestos mines.

They also represent a change in position for Mr. Duceppe. Two weeks ago, he said asbestos is safely used in Quebec and doesn't pose a health problem.

The Bloc is fighting to retain its seat in Richmond-Arthabaska, where the mine is located and hundreds of jobs are on the line.

Quebec politicians have traditionally supported the industry, though it has been dealt several blows in recent months.

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The powerful Confederation of National Trade Unions voted to withdraw its support of the industry and the federal government cut funding to one of the country's main asbestos lobby groups.

As the Charest government mulls its decision, public health organizations have issued warnings about the safety of asbestos.

The Conservatives have said they support the safe use of asbestos, while Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has argued against its export.

Asbestos has been linked to cancer although supporters say the product can be safely used under certain conditions.

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