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  • KEVIN HUTTON

November 22, 1971 Johns Manville Memo

Ten years ago this week, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reported, "Asbestos mining stops for first time in 130 years." Optimistic the Quebec government would guarantee a loan to fund an underground mine, Jeffery Mine President Bernard Coulombe, still holds out. "It's not closed ... fibre is still being sold," said Coulombe, who explains [they] are still selling small amounts from their limited inventories. He predicted production would resume at Jeffrey in the spring of 2012— once the loan guarantee is secured. But, of course, we all know that did not happen.

When I came across this news article, I was reminded of a Johns Manville document I happened to find years ago. Almost 50 years to this week, J.M. Fletcher- Johns Manville Mine Manager issued the attached directive. The memo proposed an additional $2.5 million annual savings; think about that; $2.5 million fifty years ago. The memo proposed cutting cost ideas that appear to go against safety.

The red flag to me was "Fluid flow dryer savings." I speculate this meant using less water during mining, thus reducing the need to dry fibers before milling. Then the memo mentions increased cost for additional dust collection systems. I guess they didn't know about engineering controls, THEN administrative controls, or prevention versus collection.

Being the trivia geek that I am, I researched the Johns Manville people copied in the memo. J.R.M. Hutcheson became Vice President, Asbestos Fibre Division. R.B. Gresham became Jeffrey's Mine Manager. Their short-sightedness of reducing maintenance budgets may have affected a viable company; it probably did not make much difference asbestos' destiny.

Unfortunately, the world has not grasped the reality of asbestos hazards. Instead, Russia and China are still cashing in on the "white gold" gravy train.



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