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211 C o n c l u s i o n I used to wear it as fairy dust when I was a little girl,” she said staring into her beer, as if she were talking to it now and not to me. “It’s weightless like dried leaves, you know,” she explained. “It was everywhere when I was growing up, near the schools and playgrounds; on the baseball diamonds , tracks, and in gardens.” It was the spring of 2007 and I was in a gritty bar in Libby, Montana, where I was visiting with six Japanese researchers who were part of an asbestos research group, a talented crew organized by the eminent Japanese scholar of environmental problems, Miyamoto Ken’ichi, and led by his student Mori Hiroyuki. Sometime earlier, they had visited New York, New Jersey, and Korea, investigating the international ecoepidemiological dimensions and social costs of asbestos-related health problems. They sought answers regarding how to measure asbestos risk, recognize health problems, clean up communities, and discover synthetic substitutes, as well as legal strategies to hold companies and governments accountable when negligent. It was late, though, and they were sleeping after their long flight from Japan (and then the long drive from Bozeman). I was out on the town gauging the local milieu. I thrive in small towns like this one, particularly after a long drive (fig. C.1). “ 212 The woman continued: “When we were little, my friends and I would run and jump into piles of vermiculite near the loading dock and it would almost float away. It’s really pretty, you know, with sparkling greens, purples , and reds. That’s why it made pretty fairy dust. It’s still everywhere.” She then placed her beer on the bar and her face formed a slightly gaunt, more serious expression: “I’ve been checked for asbestosis and the doctors say I’m fine. I’ve smoked my whole life, though. You’ve got to die of something , so I figure . . .” She stopped there and, after finishing my beer, I left the bar. As I walked home that night, I could not shake the image of a pretty little Libby girl smearing asbestos-contaminated vermiculite over her body, marveling at its sparkling, magical colors. Fairy dust, she had called it. I came to learn from the Japanese researchers that asbestos-contaminated vermiculite is anything but fairy dust. A bright young Osaka lawyer named Kobayashi Kuniko, three scholars from Ritsumeikan University, a Fig . C .1 In the spring of 2007, the Environmental Protection Agency identified this home in Libby, Montana, as one that needed to be cleaned up because vermiculite was found in the attic and throughout the yard and garden. The entire community of Libby is saturated with vermiculite. Photograph by author. Conclusion 213 law professor from Hokkaido University, and a leading community epidemiologist from Nara Medical University—they had all come seeking answers in Libby. Kurumatani Norio, the epidemiologist, was a slender, quiet man but relentlessly inquisitive about everything medical. When talking with Dr. Brad Black, of the Center for Asbestos Related Disease (CARD), about diagnosing the differences between fibrosis and other forms of asbestosis, he proved insistently interested in evidential detail. Translating his questions regarding Libby’s unusual set of pleural abnormalities , which differ from the more common forms of asbestosis, such as interstitial fibrosis, was no easy task. I knew little about asbestos before the journey, other than that I wanted nothing to do with it. But here I was in Libby, a small town once bathed in it.1 Libby is haunted by a relatively unusual type of asbestos. The majority of Libby’s asbestos (which occurs naturally with vermiculite) is called winchite, which contains amphibole (i.e., comprised of silica, calcium, iron, magnesium) asbestos such as actinolite and tremolite (fig. C.2). Some of these are known as crocidolite, or “blue asbestos,” which is different and decidedly more deadly than chrysolite, or “white asbestos,” for three basic reasons: crocidolite is needle shaped, persists longer in the body, and has chemically toxicological qualities. While in Libby, Mike Cirian, the Environmental Protection Agency’s chief engineer, took us on a tour of the W. R. Grace mine in a pressure-controlled, carefully sealed, and airfiltered vehicle. We drove around the mine site for an hour, sweating from the hot sun that baked the mine’s moonscape environs and gazing out the window at massive asbestos boulders and outcropping vermiculite seams. Obviously, air-conditioning was out...


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MARC Record
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