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Asbestos: The magic mineral

The needle-like fibres seemed like nature's perfect gift. Fireproof, indestructible and cheap, from the 1940s to the 1970s, asbestos was everywhere. It was woven into clothes, used to insulate buildings and even mixed with water as children's play dough. That was before studies linked asbestos dust with cancer and lung disease. Authorities now say asbestos, when handled properly, poses little risk. But nagging concerns, highlighted by the plight of the asbestos miners, have resulted in a shrivelling industry.

Asbestos is a natural mineral which was formed during intense volcanic activities millions of years ago. But it wasn't until the late 1800s that asbestos was mined commercially for its fireproof and virtually indestructible properties.
As described in this 1942 CBC Radio clip, the eastern townships of Quebec are home to the world's biggest open-pit mine. There's even a town named after the abundant mineral.

On site at the Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos, Quebec, CBC's Lorne Greene describes how some of the mining is still done by hand. Asbestos becomes a symbol for Canada's prosperity and wealth.
From the 1940s to the 1970s asbestos is so popular that it is found in more than 4,000 products, in everything from hairdryers, coffee pots, talcum powder to potting soil.
• Asbestos comes from the Greek word meaning "inextinguishable."
• Legend has it that French Emperor Charlemagne (768-814) liked to impress his guests by throwing an asbestos tablecloth into a fire, only to pull it out perfectly intact.
• Canada is one of the world's largest producers of asbestos, second only to Russia. Most of Canada's asbestos comes from Quebec.
Medium: Radio
Program: Our Canada
Broadcast Date: Dec. 20, 1942
Reporter: J. Frank Willis
Duration: 3:25

Last updated: April 10, 2012

Page consulted on March 17, 2014

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