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CAUT Bulletin Archives

December 2009

Defending the Indefensible

The Global Asbestos Industry and Its Fight for Survival

Jock McCulloch & Geoffrey Tweedale. New York, NY: Oxford University Press Inc., 2008; 336 pp; ISBN: 978-0-19953-485-2, hardcover $60 ca.
In the early 20th century, asbestos had a reputation as a lifesaver. In 1960, however, it became known that even relatively brief exposure to asbestos can cause mesothelioma, a virulent and lethal cancer. Yet the bulk of the world’s asbestos was mined after 1960 and its usage in many countries continued unabated in the face of mounting evidence of its dangers. This is the first global history of how the asbestos industry and its allies in government, insurance and medicine defended the product throughout the 20th century. It explains how asbestos has proved so enduring because the industry was able to mount a successful defense strategy for the mineral — a strategy that still operates in some parts of the world. This defense involved shaping public debate by censoring, and sometimes corrupting, scientific research and nurturing scientific uncertainty. Defending the Indefensible also discusses the threat of asbestos in the environment, victims’ compensation, and the continued use of asbestos in the developing world. It shows how asbestos can be seen as a model for many industrial diseases — indeed for a whole range of hazards produced by industrial societies. The book pulls together a wealth of documentary material gained from legal discovery, supplemented by oral evidence from the authors’ visits and research in the US, the UK, Canada, Kazakhstan, Zimbabwe, Australia, Swaziland and South Africa.

Book information supplied by publisher.