Asbestos. The substance that was long used in buildings and elsewhere for its acclaimed fire-retardant and sound-insulating qualities has been banned by most of the western world because it has a major downside: it's highly carcinogenic. The very name now conjures up horrific images of diseased lungs! Millions have been spent in recent decades on removing most of the asbestos from modern buildings – in some cases asbestos contamination meant whole buildings had to be pulled down. (Thus was the argument, though flawed, for the demolition of the GDR
's "Palace of the Republic
" parliament building in Berlin
Moreover, much of the health problems that resulted from exposure to the dust cloud that was created by the collapse of the World Trade Center in New York
(see "Ground Zero
") after the 9/11
attacks is attributed to asbestos too – and the fact that hundreds of tons of the stuff were still in the buildings at the time is an issue of some controversy.
Yet, here in rural Quebec, Canada
, the stuff was until recently still being mined – open-cast! Many people don't even know that the stuff is a naturally occurring, mine-able substance, and even fewer are aware that there is even a town named after it!
Now, you wouldn't expect this to be marketed as a tourist attraction, but remarkably, here in the little town of Asbestos opinions about the health-hazard qualities of the material differ from the world-wide consensus on its dangerousness, and so tourists are not only invited to visit the town, you can even go into the old Jeffrey Mine – the (western) world's largest asbestos mine, at 2 km wide and 350 m deep. Or you can view it from a platform that is part of the adjacent Asbestos Minerals Museum (341 Boul. St-Luc, opening times: summer only, Wed-Sat 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., admission: 4 CAD).
UPDATE: since the closure of the mining operations in 2011, these tours have become a thing of the past too, but you can still view the gigantic hole in the ground, and the museum is still working too.
UPDATE December 2019: there are now even plans to change the name of the town, as this alone had apparently been deterring new businesses from moving here, which is however very much needed, given that since the closure of the mine the town has been left with high unemployment levels.
Asbestos is on route 255 near Drummondville ca. 30 miles (50 km) to the east, 15 miles (25 km) off Highway 55, and ca. 30 miles (50 km) north of Sherbrooke, Quebec.
A bit further, ca. 40 miles (65 km) to the north-west, at Thetford Mines, you can even tour a still active open-cast asbestos mine by giant mining truck! (June to September, 1:30 p.m., July and August also at 3:30 p.m., combination ticket with mineralogical museum: 19.95 CAD, tours last ca. three hours).