What’s in a Name? A Lot if Your Name is Asbestos
Not too many years ago, Canada was one of the world’s top-producing exporters of raw asbestos fiber. From 1876, when the first major asbestos mine opened in Canada, to 2011, when the Jeffrey chrysotile asbestos mine in southeastern Québec was recognized as the largest asbestos mine in the world, Canada was known worldwide for the enormous quantities of asbestos fiber it produced and exported.
Canada and the rest of the world have known for some time that asbestos is toxic and that inhaling or ingesting the fibers can be deadly. The microscopic fibers, 700 times thinner than a human hair, can burrow into the lining of the lungs, abdomen, and heart once inhaled or ingested, where they can fester in human tissue for decades, eventually causing asbestosis, lung cancer, or the devastating asbestos cancer known as mesothelioma.
Yet despite global knowledge that asbestos is a dangerous carcinogen, and the enactment of laws in many countries, including the United States, to ban its use in some asbestos products and restrict usage in others, until lately, Canada refused to follow suit.
As recently as a decade ago, Canada’s Jeffrey open-pit asbestos mine was still a thriving production, providing employment for thousands of residents in an adjacent town named for the mineral. The city of Asbestos even offered daily tours of its nearby mining operation to the public.
A popular tourist attraction for decades, the asbestos mine tour in the town of Asbestos, Canada, was especially sought after during the town’s annual Asbestos Festival, an upbeat celebration featuring music, parades and amusement rides that annually drew 60,000 people. A re-purposed school bus would ferry forty tourists at a time down the spiraling roads of the open-pit mine on a two-hour tour a mile deep into the earth.
But after the Jeffrey mine ceased operations in 2012, bowing to reduced demand for the hazardous mineral worldwide, asbestos suddenly wasn’t the moneymaker for its namesake town that it had been. Then, in 2018, when Canada finally passed laws making it illegal to import, manufacture, sell, trade or use products made with asbestos, the 7,000 residents of Asbestos began to reconsider the beloved name of their village.
Thousands of townspeople lost their livelihoods when the mine closed, and new businesses were reluctant to set down roots in a place with a name so deeply associated with toxicity and disease. Being named for a carcinogen became a hindrance to economic development and hampered efforts to attract business investors.
The mayor of Asbestos, Hugues Grimard, told CBC News in the fall of 2019 that most businesses “don’t want to establish themselves here because of the name.” Townspeople began to consider that neither entrepreneurs nor customers might want their knit scarves or children’s toys or apple juice to say “Made in Asbestos” on the label.
In November 2019, civic leaders decided to rename the town and launched a public relations campaign to convince its citizens to give up the old name and to solicit suggestions for a new identity. From mid-February to mid-March 2020, town leaders accepted submissions for a new name.
Greenpeace Canada weighed in with six ideas, all inspired by endangered species that live in the Southeast Québec area. Other suggestions paid homage to the geography, such as the “City of Three Lakes.” Some residents thought the name should be changed to Le Chanvre, the French word for hemp, which, like asbestos, is a locally sourced insulating product made of fiber. Hemp fiber, however, does not pose a health risk to those who work with or around it, according to manufacturers.
By March 27, 2020, Mayor Grimard and his staff had whittled the suggestions down to the best 500 or so. These will be voted on by local residents. Whatever name is eventually chosen, the town council has specified that it must be dynamic and unifying, contribute to the city’s development, represent the region, geography or history, and bear no reference to the asbestos industry. The new name is expected to be announced later this year. What new identity will residents select? Whatever name they choose, that place which is now called “Asbestos” will by any other name be far sweeter.
If you or a family member has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, we want to help. Every state has a different statute of limitations, so call us at 855-280-7664 or contact us online to discuss your legal options with our mesothelioma lawyers. The courts set up an asbestos trust fund, and you may be able to receive compensation if you have been exposed to asbestos and developed mesothelioma. Filing a mesothelioma lawsuit is not easy, but Baron & Budd is one of the largest mesothelioma law firms in the nation and our mesothelioma attorneys have taken cases all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court and won.