Home > Social issues > A book everyone should read

A book everyone should read

I wrote about this in a Daily Kos open thread not long ago, but I just finished the book, so I thought I should expand a bit more.

The book is An Air That Kills by Andrew Schneider and David McCumber. It’s about asbestos in the country generally and Libby, Montana, specifically (which is 15 miles east of where I am now). A quick summary: W.R. Grace mined vermiculite outside the town and that vermiculite was contaminated with tremolite, an extroardinarily toxic kind of asbestos and the dust made the miners sick. They then brought the dust home with them and made their families sick. Grace knew the stuff was toxic and did not tell the miners. The EPA knew it was toxic and did nothing. The stuff was shipped all over the country and sold in the form of Zonolite attic insulation, among other things, so millions have the toxic material in their attics. And to top it off, asbestos in general is still all over the place in this country.

The book could hardly be more infuriating. What Grace did was criminal. The complete failure of the government to do anything about it is unforgivable. The EPA did a much better job fixing it this time around, though only through the perseverence of the EPA people on the ground. Republicans don’t come off well in the book, which is not really surprising. They’re friendlier with industry, so they came out on completely the wrong side of it, especially in the White House meddling with the EPA’s declarations after 9/11. However, Judy Martz, of all people, gets a mark in her favor in declaring Libby a Superfund site. Interestingly, doctors in the book come off pretty badly, bending to industry and not wanting to upset anyone, save for the few who stuck their necks out.

Libby was a disaster of staggering proportions. Anyone who decries regulation on industry, especially environmental regulations should read this book. The damage that could be done without proper regulation is scary. And even if you aren’t one of those people, you need to read for a reminder of just how badly lives can be ruined by uncontrolled corporations. This is absolutely a must read book.

Categories: Social issues
  1. Steve
    June 28, 2004 at 4:53 am

    look up the conduct of James Hardie Industries in Australia, and the subsequent breaking up of the company into three parts.

    Part 1, the company that inherited the asbestos libility, calculated to be $300M (currently $1.6B), and were given $300M of asbestos contaminated assets to sell to meet the forseen liability.

    Part 2, the former parent company, that has now been left with $26M, in case litigiants manager to break through company 1.

    Part 3, the “actual” company, which has been moved to Europe, and listed on the stock exchange.

    The asbestos companies STINK, in that they knowingly produced a product for decades after it was a known carcinogen.


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