It’s what MAD Magazine cover boy Alfred E. Neuman might say if he were Quebecois–and a lot of people in the town of Thetford feel the same way, despite clear evidence showing that many of the town’s residences are contaminated with the local product–chrysotile asbestos.
Thetford, Quebec, may very well wind up being the Canadian counterpart of Libby, Montana. A lot of people in Montana were defensive and fiercely loyal to the corporation that proved jobs to the community–but that, in the end, demonstrated the all-too-common wanton corporate disregard for human life. It could be argued that back when the situation in Libby was becoming apparent, there was substantially less awareness of asbestos hazards. Yet today, when the health hazards of asbestos are well established and widely known, many people in Thetford have similarly defensive attitudes regarding the town’s primary industry.
“It doesn’t bother me. I’m not worried about it at all. A lot of people around here live to be 80, 90, and 100 years old, and now they’re coming up with this?” asked one woman. “I’ve never heard of people dying because of the air in their homes.” Another resident said, “Those people who had their houses tested are just whiners, looking for compensation…we made a very good living in the mines, and I don’t regret it for a minute.” Yet another quipped, “It’s paranoia. It’s just like with smoking. I know lots of people who smoke and live to be 80 or 90 years old.” One retired miner complained, “People are saying three quarters of the houses here are contaminated…that kind of talk is not great for the region, I’ll tell you that.” The fact remains that chrysotile, while less deadly than amphibole asbestos, is still an established carcinogen. Tests of the soil and air clearly showed high levels of asbestos contamination. Showing a “blame-the-victim” attitude that can unfortunately be found in the U.S. as well, mineworker Claude Marois acknowledges that some of his co-workers have died from asbestos poisoning, but attributes it to personal weakness on their part. Loyal to the corporations who are unlikely to care if he died tomorrow, Marois proudly defends the asbestos industry, crediting it for the town’s prosperity.