Wednesday, 8 December 2010

#2 never forget that some things are just too good to be true

My good friend Julia is an urban planner who has been going around studying a whole bunch of built environments in the UK, France and Germany ever since I've known her.

She sent me an email out of the blue after we hadn't spoken for a while and the timing reminded me of the story of asbestos. A story which spans over 4,000 years and has undoubtedly affected a huge number of people.

We now commonly know asbestos as the building material which is made of fibres which can cause serious health problems if inhaled, or even death. I've seen estimates that reckon in the US alone over 100,000 people have died from asbestos exposure in the ship-building industry alone. People first became suspicious about it in the early 20th century when the use of asbestos in the US was pretty significant... and there was an abnormally high number of deaths occurring in asbestos-mining towns compared to other places. But it was only in the 1980s the stuff became a banned substance in the Western world. Before this, it's fair to say we loved it! And who can blame us? Asbestos is flame-retardant, heat-resistant, flexible and it insulates. In fact, Asbestos is a natural substance and there's evidence it’s been used for over 4,500 years (people even made cooking utensils out of it - eek!). 

So there we have it. Perhaps it was just one of those things too good to be true. But it makes you wonder how other such stories out there which span over 4,000 years and end not so nicely... That's why we should questioneverything(365) as the asbestos REMOVAL industry is running at a pretty bug scale (or otherwise your strategy could be to build loads of stuff which you know yourself to be dangerous, commission some research, declare it unsafe and secure yourself a few more years of well-paid work to remove it. But it might take you less than four millennia to break even on that one...)

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