Questioning the attempt to mine fluorspar again
In August of 1970, as a firstyear teacher, I was introduced to the town of St. Lawrence.
Accompanied by my wife, we spent our first few nights at Ms. Walsh’s boarding house in Little St. Lawrence. There, I listened to Walsh’s stories of how she had lost six brothers to ailments associated with working at the nearby fluorspar mine. My youthful naivety was severely tested.
Settling in, we watched as trucks from the mine piled their loads into waiting ships. Meanwhile, I began to learn more about my students. One young lady, the oldest of six, her mother a nurse, lived in a fatherless family, her dad taken by “the dust.” Hers wasn’t the only such case. In St. Lawrence, I sensed a pall of sadness and inevitability, bolstered by a stoic acceptance, overlying the town.
One spring Saturday, while talking with a cousin on the waterfront, a small group of young men passed us. One of these men, not much older than I, wheezed and stumbled as he shuffled along, trying to keep up with his mates. After they had passed, my cousin, a man my father’s age, explained matter-of-factly, “He’s got the dust, b’y, he’ll be dead within three weeks.”
On the last day of school, I witnessed a mock funeral procession of miners, dressed in black and carrying a coffin, as it made its way over the hill, down to the harbour. That day, the mine closed.
Unlike many of the miners, my life went on but memories of St. Lawrence - the wonder, the friendliness and the sadness - stayed with me. I returned to studies, which included a physics degree. Today, I realize that fluorspar deposits often accompany uranium and with uranium comes a host of radioactive, decay elements, including radon gas, one of the most probable causes for the fatal illnesses borne by hundreds of departed miners who used to live in St. Lawrence.
My subjective impressions could easily be dismissed had they not been corroborated by others who have written about this infamous mine. Although a generation and a half have passed, the dangers remain. Yet, people forget.
Bowing to evident pressure to reopen this mine, the Newfoundland government has not declined further development at this toxic site but, instead, it has allowed the proponents to escape an environmental assessment – despite the sham that this often represents – and to proceed. Doing so, at the beginning of an election campaign, threatens to diffuse the responsibility and to sweep the matter under the proverbial carpet. Will any of the opposition parties take this matter in hand and censure the Conservatives for their incredible oversight and their disrespect for the dead miners of St. Lawrence?
If these parties fail to do so, they could end up wearing the blame for this toxic decision.