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Skouries mine an asbestos hazard

The group AntiGoldGreece is highlighting that the Skouries mine in northern Greece is an asbestos hazard.

The Vancouver-based Eldorado Gold’s Skouries project – an open pit gold mine and processing plant – is situated near the town of Ierissos in the Halkidiki peninsula of northern Greece.

Opponents of the mine note that 2,162 tons of dust per hour will be produced by the mine (which is a concern in of itself), but that the ore and waste rock contain mineral asbestos and that the mine will produce 108 tons of asbestos dust per hour. The European Union recognizes that ‘respirable crystalline quartz’ (the dust that is produced by mining, crushing and grinding materials containing quartz) is one of the main causes of pneumoconiosis (a disease of the lungs due to inhalation of dust, characterized by inflammation, coughing, and fibrosis) and chalicosis (a form of pneumoconiosis affecting the lungs or bronchioles, found chiefly among stonecutters).

Local activists calculate that the mine could produce about 8 million tons of this asbestos-laden dust each year.

And given winds, this dust could spread over quite a large area.

About 3,300 acres of primeval forest were cut down to clear the area for the mine, plant, roads and an area to dump the mine’s toxic tailings waste. This destruction is happening near the birthplace of the Greek philosopher Aristotle who would have walked in those woods more than two thousand years ago.

The New York Times has reported, “[In 2003], Greece’s highest court ruled that the amount of environmental damage that mining would do here was not worth the economic gain. Opponents worry about dust and ground water pollution.” While much has been made about the 1,000 jobs associated with the mine, less attention has been given to the jobs the mine would cost, including in tourism, fishing and beekeeping. Three university professors in Greece, who teach forestry, mountain water settlement, and forest soil, have also noted their strong concerns about the impact of the forest removal for the Skouries mine on the hydrological cycle.

The mine was able to proceed because the troika of the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission forced Greece under its austerity program to streamline their environmental approval processes for mines and other environmentally-damaging projects.

In January 2015, Reuters reported, “‎Greece’s new left-wing government … is firmly opposed to a Canadian gold mine [the country’s new energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis said].” Lafazanis says, “We are absolutely against it and we will examine our next moves on it.” But in early May, the Greek Environment Ministry approved a technical study for the project that allowed development of the mine to resume after work on it was suspended in January. This month, Reuters reported, “An official with the Greek energy ministry said in an interview on [May 6] that it had approved an amended technical study for Skouries to ensure that workers are safe from asbestos.”

It may be that all pending licences have now been granted given the company had decided to halt its operations until those were in place.

Earlier this month, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau indicated that a ban on asbestos in Canada was coming. He said, “We’ve actually made a commitment that we’re moving forward on a ban here in Canada. We are moving to ban asbestos. We know that its impact on workers far outweighs any benefit that it might provide.” There is hope that the federal government will pass legislation that officially bans the use, export and import of all asbestos-containing materials. While this should happen, we believe the residents near a Canadian-financed mine deserve the same protection from asbestos.

The Council of Canadians and Blue Planet Project have worked with Greek allies to oppose this mine since meeting with them outside the World Water Forum in Marseille, France in March 2012.

For the full article in Greek about the asbestos threat from the Skouries mine, please click here.