A May 5, 2009 Slate article by Shaun Walker is about Russian towns that revolve around one industry. Such towns, he says, are known as monogorods. As it happens, he chose to write about the monogorod town of Asbest.
The article caught my eye for two reasons. One is the scope of the industry – according to Mr. Walker:
“There are 19 different factories and workshops that make up UralAsbest, the company that defines the town, he told me, and more than 70 percent of the families living in the town have at least one member who works there. He handed me an English-language brochure called “Asbestos Saves Lives.”
The other noteworthy point is the town/industry’s focus on the controversies over the toxicity of various types of asbestos fibers, and short, glib answers to complex questions. Plaintiff’s lawyers hate to admit it, but the reality is that amphibole fibers (usually crocidolite or amosite) are by all accounts far more “toxic” than are chrysotile fibers. That said, some chrysotile fibers from some mines are “tainted” by amphibole fibers. The subtlies, however, usally are not discussed, as is the case in ths town of Asbest:
Kholzyakov sat back in his chair and let out a long sigh. “The thing is, amphibole asbestos, which was used in Europe, really was dangerous. But we mine chrysotile asbestos here, which is perfectly safe. It’s only because companies in the West have made expensive substitutes that there is a campaign to ban us.”
The party line in Asbest jibes well with a Pravda item on asbestos use. The full text of the article is below with the first three items reaaranged to appear at the top of the list. Bear in mind this is from the English version of Pravda.
10 myths of the past, which never materialized.
Environmental pollution: some people feared that the civilization would come to end by 2020 due to sky-high levels of industrial and communal pollution which should result in a lack of oxygen and poisonous evaporation.
Asbestos: Micro particles of asbestos cause lung cancer. Asbestos was produced in Canada and the USSR. Canadian asbestos companies went bankrupt following an anti-asbestos propaganda campaign instigated by the competitors. Russia’s asbestos makers have survived the bad times. The incidence rate of cancer in the town of Asbest does not exceed an average national incidence rate of cancer.
Global warming: industrial emissions of carbon dioxide cause the greenhouse effect that leads to overheating of the earth’s surface. Consequently, polar ice will melt away causing the global ocean level rise by one meter.
Steam-driven locomotive: serious scientists were asserting that cows would stop bearing offspring and produce milk at the sight of a locomotive. They also clamed that air would be squeezed out of train carriages at 20 km per hour and passengers will suffocate as a result.
Robot: intelligent machines will shake off dependence and take command of the world; humans would submit to the power of the machines.
Spacecraft: spacecraft were making holes in the atmosphere during the takeoff; the earth’s protective anti-radiation layer of the atmosphere will be eventually destroyed and thus the earth will be exposed to dangerous space particles.
Microwave oven: fried sausages can irradiate in the dark; radiation from food cooked in the oven will pile up in the human body and cause cancer.
Cell phone: radiation emitted by a cell phone receiver can affect the brain by liquefying it. Paradoxically, a cell phone phobia could not stop the massive spread of cellular communications all over the world.
Vaccination: the danger of vaccination is one of the longstanding fears in the world; the first objectors appeared shortly after the first vaccination campaign launched by Dr. Edward Jenner in 1796; many objected to vaccination in Russia at the end of the 1990s.