Ques­tion­ing the at­tempt to mine fluorspar again

The Southern Gazette - - EDITORIAL - David Simms Clear­wa­ter, B.C.

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.

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