When I was much younger, I fretted about everything. But then, there was a lot to fret about. I guess I’ve just finally realized that everything goes in cycles and it all eventually returns to where you started.
Take asbestos, for example. When I was just a cub, asbestos was the best thing in the universe. It was good for both fire proofing and sound proofing. It was an insulator of electricity and most chemicals couldn’t phase it. It was a natural substance (asbestos is actually a rock, you know), so you knew it was safe, and there was a plentiful supply. For 4,000 years, people used asbestos and didn’t have a problem with it. Then science stuck her pretty nose into the subject.
We found out that tiny, dust-sized particles of asbestos could get into the lungs of people working with the mineral and turn the cells cancerous. Actually the Romans knew that, they just didn’t think it mattered much, since their slaves were the ones effected, and pretty much everybody died young anyway (remember the lead pipes of Rome?). So civilization rocked along until the late 1960s when a lawsuit was filed showing that the manufacturers of asbestos products knew they were killing their workers, and had known since 1906. This was the first successful product-liability lawsuit and it opened up the money spigot. But the case stayed in the appeals process until the 1980s, so asbestos continued to be sprayed on all building surfaces throughout the 1970s.
By the 1990s, you couldn’t give asbestos away in America. Next they decided that it had to be removed from every building it was in, since long-term exposure could affect people just living around it. Naturally, this stirred up a lot of asbestos dust and caused more health problems than had the original use of it. So they decided that only specialized teams with full hazard gear could remove the stuff, but it still raised “dust” issues that could last for decades — making those buildings useless. The buildings couldn’t even be torn down for fear of killing everyone in a four block radius.
Finally the powers-that-be said the asbestos in buildings could be coated with a special mixture and left in place and the dust issue was solved. Slum lords were back in business, and renovators were saved. Life went on much as before. Only…
Did you know that Russia still mines asbestos for commercial use? Although more countries ban its use every year, there are many that are still trying to decide whether they want to lose such a commercially useful material. It shows up in everything from motor gaskets to talc to crayons in places outside the United States. And, after all, it’s mostly unimportant people who die from asbestos exposure anyway.
And so we come full circle. Back where we started. If we can’t learn anything from a subject as horrible as lung cancer, then I figure it’s pointless to try thinking at all…