For over a century, manufacturers from around the world relied on asbestos to produce a multitude of fire-retardant products from building materials to auto parts to household appliances. As use of the mineral became more widespread, medical professionals discovered it also had harmful effects on human health. Mining and manufacturing companies downplayed the risks to workers and the general public, but eventually, as the devastating nature of asbestos-related deaths became common knowledge, the industry suffered a slow, terminal decline. A Town Called Asbestos looks at how the people of Asbestos, Quebec, worked and lived alongside the opencast Jeffrey Mine, the largest chrysotile asbestos mine in the world. Dependent on this deadly industry for their community’s survival, the town’s residents developed a unique, place-based understanding of their local environment; the risks they faced living next to the giant opencast asbestos mine; and their place within the global resource trade. This book unearths the local-global tensions that defined Asbestos’s proud and painful history and reveals the challenges similar resource communities have faced – and continue to face today.
This engaging book will appeal to people interested in the town of Asbestos and its complicated past, advocacy groups that work in the area of asbestos regulation, the mining industry, and anyone interested in environmental history, labour history, Canadian history, and the history of health and medicine.
...a fascinating and, at times, disturbing history of a Canadian mining industry’s incredible rise and devastating collapse. This history elucidates the complex relationships humans have with the physical (natural and industrial) environments around them and how individuals and communities create, nurture, and defend their sense of place...It is a vital contribution to our knowledge of Canadian natural resource industries and the people who made their collection possible.
For those interested in the history of Asbestos, Quebec, this is the book to read. Thoroughly researched in the archives -- its is, after all, based on a doctoral dissertation -- A Town Called Asbestos situates this particular town within a broader context of resource communities. It also raises some important questions, not only about the survival of communities reliant upon a single major employer but also regarding our federal government's willingness to use its positive international profile to market a hazardous product to developing nations. Read this book and feel the author's moral outrage.
In the middle of the environmental, medical, and political histories, van Horssen challenges and adds nuance to the existing historical narrative of the 1949 strike in Asbestos … She places it back within its local historical milieu showing how the strike arose in response to a confluence of grievances about local politics, health issues, and community relations.
A Town Called Asbestos is a crisp narrative that documents something close to manslaughter. If economic necessity saw mill employees literally work themselves to death, the recklessness of insurers and regulators remains inexplicable.
The scholarship is first rate. The story is compelling. This is a vitally important book given all the harm that asbestos still causes throughout the world.
A Town Called Asbestos is, quite remarkably, the first book-length study to consider the environmental history and geography of this storied and troubled place ... van Horssen’s interest is clearly focused on Asbestos, but her account – which engages broad intellectual horizons and sharpens understanding of the human condition – ranges widely across disciplines, their literatures, and the face of the earth.
Foreword: The Long Dying / Graeme Wynn
Introduction: Introducing Asbestos
1 Creation Stories: Asbestos before 1918
2 Land with a Future, Not a Past, 1918–49
3 Negotiating Risk, 1918–49
4 Essential Characteristics, 1918–49
5 Bodies Collide: The Strike of 1949
6 “Une ville qui se deplace,” 1949–83
7 Useful Tools, 1949–83
8 Altered Authority, 1949–83
Conclusion: Surviving Collapse: Asbestos Post-1983
Notes; Bibliography; Index
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