Since Andrew Schneider and David McCumber broke the story of Libby, Mont., in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, what began as local news about miners and their families dying of asbestosis has mushroomed into a national health disaster. Now, in their new book, An Air That Kills, they expose the asbestos industry’s deadly impact on the lives of Americans everywhere.
Schneider and McCumber track billions of pounds of asbestos-tainted
vermiculite ore to more than 750 processing plants throughout North
America, finding that up to 35 million homes are insulated with a
product that both W.R. Grace and Co. and the United States
government knew was hazardous.
Moreover, the World Trade
Center contained 100 tons of Libby’s vermiculite — all
of it sent airborne in Lower Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001. But the
authors show how the White House, instead of warning New Yorkers of
the health dangers, altered the Environmental Protection
Agency’s statements concerning the health hazards at ground
zero, and knowingly exposed thousands to poisonous air.
The two journalists contend that such deceit is symptomatic of a
federal government deeply intertwined with the asbestos lobby. And
while most Americans think asbestos is a problem of the past,
it’s not: Thanks to an overturn of the ban on its production
in 1991, crayons, garden products, kitty litter and brake parts all
This book isn’t an easy read;
it’s difficult to turn a page without feeling sick at the
disregard for human life exhibited by businesspeople, government
officials and medical professionals, who did nothing to ease
Libby’s suffering, and who continue to expose the
nation’s lungs to asbestos’ microscopic barbs of death.
While a few noble doctors and government officials who fought for
justice are given the credit they deserve, the villains in this
sordid tale far outnumber the heroes.
An Air that Kills: How the Asbestos Poisoning of
Libby, Montana, Uncovered a National
Andrew Schneider and David
McCumber. 440 pages, hardcover: $25.95. Penguin, 2004.
Asbestos beyond Libby city limits
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