Monday, February 09, 2004

Book Reviews: The Neverending Tragedy of Asbestos

I've written several times of journalist Andrew Schneider's stories about the asbestos contamination of Libby, Montana, as well as areas, such as St. Louis, where the vermiculite from Libby ended up.

Schneider has just written a book, An Air That Kills, about the tragedy of Libby. NYCOSH's Jonathan Bennet has written a review
An Air That Kills begins with an eyewitness account of what happened in Libby, documenting how Grace suppressed the knowledge that the vermiculite from its mine was mixed with asbestos, which was so toxic that it not only poisoned Grace employees, but also people whose only connection to the mine was to live in the vicinity. Grace was able to get away with its deception for decades, in part because of the complicity of the local establishment, including the town's doctors and its hospital, and in part because asbestos-related disease develops decades after exposure, and often is not recognized for what it is.

But Libby's epidemic is not confined to a corner of Montana. Hundreds of townspeople are only the first wave of the afflicted. The second wave is already well under way, and its victims, who, by Grace's own very conservative estimate, are likely to number 30,000, have never been to Libby.
But as Bennet says, the stuggle continues beyond Libby
The same forces of greed, carelessness and indifference that victimized Libby are still at work in Congress, in the regulatory agencies, and the boardrooms, striving to prevent corporate or official accountability and to maximize profits. The ongoing cleanup of Libby and the townspeople's success in winning some medical care and compensation represents an important victory for one group of victims. But An Air That Kills reveals that uncontrolled exposure to asbestos from Libby and elsewhere is a daily reality for millions of Americans.

Is it possible that with so many people at risk, a groundswell could develop to ban asbestos, to control exposure to what is already in place, and to ensure that those who are sick will be fairly compensated? The need is clear, but so is the power of those with another agenda.

And another Seattle Post Intelligencer review here:
When the boss says, "Asbestos, asbestos, all asbestos," we know exactly what we're meant to feel. Could there be a more sinister term in this Chemical Age? Not only are most of us aware of asbestos and its toxic qualities, but we also believe it has been banned, regulated and cleaned up by cadres of haz-mat Martians from the Environmental Protection Agency and armies of Superfund contractors.

As this devastating book proves beyond a microfiber of a doubt, we are dead wrong. We don't have a clue how dangerous asbestos really is, and asbestos is neither banned nor reliably regulated -- and is far, far from being cleaned up.

Read the reviews. Read the book.