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A new use for an old asbestos mine

Although asbestos has caused much pain and suffering for thousands of people in Madison County and throughout the country and the world, a new use for one of the largest asbestos mines in the world may actually result in some positive change. Recently, a Canadian space agency began using that country's Jeffrey Mine to simulate a mission to Mars, with the goal of preparing for an eventual trip to the red planet.

The goal of the Mars project is to test and train a rover to detect methane in the asbestos mine so it can do so on the red planet. The mine is a good place to do this because it hosts serpentine, a rock that is prone to bacteria, which in turn produces methane. Scientists say that the presence of methane is a key indicator of life on Mars, so engineering a vehicle that can sense methane is essential to determine whether anything lives on the planet.

The open-pit asbestos mine, which is located in Quebec, recently began to wind down its operations, and had been seeking a nearly $60 million loan from the Canadian government to renovate the facility. However, that loan has been cancelled following a campaign promise by the party that is now in charge of the province's government. Since the cancellation, several hundred former mine workers have been laid off.

According to one official, it is not likely that the mine will become active again anytime soon. "It would take a miracle to reopen the mine in the coming years," he said.

While nowhere near the amount promised in the government loan, the Mars project has paid $800,000 to the mine. This won't provide the same economic boon to a region that has long depended on asbestos mining for jobs and revenue, but the cessation of asbestos mining there will go a long way to keep residents safe.

Source: Product Design & Development, "A Celestial Calling for Canada's Last Asbestos Mine," Peter Rakobowchuk, Nov. 26, 2012

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