Despite the undeniable scientific evidence about the dangers of asbestos, over 2 million tons of it is exported every year to the developing world, where is little, or no regulation.
For this episode of VICE Reports, Milène Larsson traveled to the world’s largest asbestos mine in the town of Asbest, Russia. There, she met with employees, who work around the dangerous mineral. Surprisingly, locals don’t really care about the risks associated with asbestos mining. Furthermore, asbestos is the city’s pride. Locals dedicated to asbestos monuments, songs, and even a museum.
As the New York Times reports about the town of Asbest,
“Of the half-dozen people interviewed who worked at the factory or mine, all had a persistent cough, a symptom of exposure to what residents call “the white needles.” Residents also describe strange skin ailments. Doctors interviewed at a dermatology ward say the welts arise from inflammation caused by asbestos.”
“Every normal person is trying to get out of here,” Boris Balobanov, a former factory employee, now a taxi driver, explained. “People who value their lives leave. But I was born here and have no place else to go.”
Valentin K. Zemskov, 82, worked at the mine for 40 years and developed asbestosis, a respiratory illness caused by breathing in asbestos fibers, which scar lung tissue. “There was so much dust you couldn’t see a man standing next to you,” he said of his working years. For the disability, the factory adds 4,500 rubles, or about $135, to his monthly retirement check, which would be enough to cover only a few restaurant meals.
Still, he said the city had no other choice. “If we didn’t have the factory, how would we live?” he said, gasping for air as he talked in the yard of a retirement home. “We need to keep it open so we have jobs.”
The Vice correspondent then visits Libby, Montana, another mining town almost on the other side of the globe, where the effects of asbestos exposure are undeniable: 400 townspeople have died from asbestos-related diseases, and many more are slowly choking to death. Why is the deadly industry of mining and selling asbestos still alive and well?