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AN Air That Kills Hardcover – January 26, 2004

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Latest in John Lescroart's Dismas Hardy series: A teenager dives to her death. Was it suicide or murder? Dismas' daughter Rebecca investigates. Read the full description

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

As part of a year-long investigation into the impact of the General Mining Act, which let corporations buy land cheaply from the government, Schneider, senior national correspondent for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, met with Gayla Benefield, a resident and activist in Libby, Mont. Benefield's extensive knowledge of the area and the number of people suffering from asbestos-related illnesses impressed Schneider. He began his own digging, talking to lawyers, residents, environmental experts and staffers at the EPA, and even had tests conducted. This book chronicles his inquiry into an enormous coverup by Grace Corporation, which ran the Zonolite factory. Schneider and McCumber, managing editor at the newspaper, have written a compelling and frightening story about the victims-the people who worked in the factory and other local residents who weren't employees-suffering from life-threatening ailments. The authors focus on the individuals rather than the legal wrangling, court cases or scientific research. For example, in describing the matter-of-fact way employees handled the asbestos dust, they compellingly write: "Each floor was worse than the last. Les' battle with the never-ending blizzard of dust was truly mythical in proportion, like Hercules cleaning the Augean stables.... When he got on the bus to ride back to town that night, he was covered in dust, just like everybody else. His hair was coated, his ears and his nose were plugged up. His throat felt like sandpaper. The dust in his mouth and nose felt like thick brown syrup...." With Benefield-who's reminiscent of Erin Brockovich-at the center of the story, the authors have written a first-rate book about a contemporary American tragedy.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* News media take a lot of criticism these days, often deservedly, but sometimes the fourth estate comes to our aid when all other institutions fail. Here, Schneider and McCumber build on the story they broke in 1999 for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Vermiculite miners in remote Libby, Montana, were dying. Worse, their spouses and children were dying, too. Vermiculite is used in construction materials, insulation, gardening, and elsewhere. The vermiculite found in Libby is contaminated with tremolite, a particularly lethal form of asbestos, which dusted the workers and the town and which companies Zonolite and W. R. Grace said was harmless. This is a tale of chilling employer cynicism, of government collusion, and, fortunately, of an alert reporter, a committed community activist, and an EPA worker who fought his own agency to do what was right. Still, Libby's environmental catastrophe is worse than Love Canal's--and because asbestos still hasn't been banned, citizens weren't and won't be the only ones to suffer. In this remarkable book, the authors construct a rich, compelling narrative that includes both hard science and touching stories. Schneider and McCumber have clearly chosen a side, but to take the other is to value money over human life. An essential entry in the annals of corporate amorality. Keir Graff
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: G. P. Putnam's Sons (January 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399150951
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399150951
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.5 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #526,336 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Gayla Benefield on February 10, 2004
Format: Hardcover
As one of the characters in the book, I am grateful to Andrew Schneider and David McCumber for portraying what has happened to Libby, Montana and its residents so thoughtfully and thoroughly.
The book is a "must read" for everyone.
The story is far from over in Libby and around the country, but if what has occured in Libby serves as a lesson to other communities, it will be worth it.
People can make a difference, if they don't give up and are surrounded by people that believe in them.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 12, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Review: 'Air That Kills' exposes fibers of mass destruction
Reviewed by Neal Karlen
Special to the Star Tribune
Just because you're paranoid about the environment doesn't mean they're not out to poison you. So we learn in spellbinding, horrific detail in Andrew Schneider and David McCumber's "An Air That Kills," a jeremiad that does for the still-immediate peril of asbestos what Ralph Nader's "Unsafe at Any Speed" did for the Corvair.
Of course, that sports car could simply be pulled out of production. Yet where does one even begin to deal with the ongoing fallout of generations worth of systemic, unregulated poisoning of our country by an industry that churned out uncountable tons of fibers of mass destruction, in a business most people wrongly think was brought to its knees around the time young Dubya was pledging Skull and Bones at Yale?
Schneider (winner of two Pulitzer Prizes) and McCumber center their exposé on Libby, a small town in the northwest corner of Montana that was mined from the 1920s to 1990 for asbestos-laden vermiculite ore, known commercially as Zonolite. W.R. Grace & Co., which bought the mine in 1963 and ramped up production, hid the risks of the toxic dust that by 1969 was being released into Libby's air at the rate of 2 1/2 tons a day.
It would be bad enough if the astronomical fatality rates of asbestos-related cancers had been localized in Libby. Unfortunately, Grace had sent billions of pounds of its tainted ore to more than 750 processing plants throughout North America, including two in Minneapolis; it's estimated that between 15 million and 35 million homes remain insulated with the product that the company always contended wasn't hazardous.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By J. Eisen on May 8, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I want you to read this book. It is important to you and your family. I consider myself a knowledgeable person and I don't remember this scandal when it came out in 2000-2001. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I live in southern CA, but the problems with asbestos effects all of us in the US. Attic insulation, talc products and even gardening/soil products have asbestos risks that have been used and available for sale up into the 1990's and beyond.
I must have read a review or heard one of the authors in an interview...but somehow this book made it onto my "Must Read" list. When I received the book, I questioned why I had gotten it, having forgotten what motivated my interest in the first place. But I started reading and have found this book to be a treasure.
The story is one of deception, corruption and greed on the part of Big Business, in this case the mining business. The owners and executives misled their workers, investors and the government agencies that regulated them into turning a blind eye to the dangers of asbestos in their products.
While the deception of the miners in Libby was unconscionable, the book goes on to document the Bush White House withholding information that the air in and around the World Trade Center was not healthy! Can you imagine, after a tragedy like the WTC disaster, that your own government, that you rallied round to give support, would turn on you and withhold information that the air that you breathe is full of cancer causing dust? Which tragedy is worse?
The book is truly a must-read.
Lastly, I want to point out the courage of the reporters, editors, doctors and the outstanding EPA field workers that fought to get this story out.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Phillip Bigelow on January 26, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Authors McCumber and Schneider spent five years researching
this story, with much of their time spent interviewing
Libby residents. They write emotionally, but with what
can best be described as an objective passion.
Their facts are well-researched and corroborated. This is
the true story of the death of many Libby residents, the slow
death of an entire community, of corporate lies, and of partisan
politics which continues to block any medical help reaching
the victims (the conflict breaks down along
typical conservative vs. liberal firing lines). The partisan
sniping is found amongst Libby's residents, but it goes
all the way to the Whitehouse and into the halls of the
U.S. Congress, from which most of Libby's aid must
eventually come.
I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in
environmental health issues and environmental politics.
It would make an excellent college text book for
Environmental Science classes and for Environmental Law classes.
Unfortunately, this story is not yet finished. Very
little has been done to provide adequate medical
care or *individual* financial aid for the victims. An
Asbestos Disease Research Center will soon be built in Libby.
Its goal is to study the townspeople and to study how
asbestos-related diseases progress in this population.
Not surprisingly, many Libby residents now believe that
they are being viewed as "human lab rats".
Many victims have no health insurance, and so far, no
one is offering to help them. Some of the Federal money that
will be used to build the new Asbestos Research Center
could have been used to pay the medical bills of these people.
Therefore, Libby's last chapter has yet to be written.
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