AN AIR THAT KILLS: How the Asbestos Poisoning of Libby, Montana, Uncovered a National Scandal

Andrew Schneider, Author, David McCumber, Author . Putnam $25.95 (440p) ISBN 978-0-399-15095-1

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. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 01/12/2004
Release date: 01/01/2004
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