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January Update 2024

Dear Friends of Kingston Inner Harbour,
The graph here is from Steve Manders who has been studying crows in the area. So fascinating.
In his words: “Kingston is experiencing new phenomena with crows hanging around all winter.  From 1950 to 2000, there were usually less than a half dozen.  From 2000 to 2000 there were about 300 every winter, and there are now between 4,500 to 5,000 crows in Kingston and the Inner Harbour in particular.   Last winter there were 2,700 crows that never ventured east of Division Street.  This winter they have never ventured west of Division St.   The best explanation for them staying here is that they used to only go as far south as Pennsylvania for the edge of the snow belt.  We are now the edge of the snow belt.    I have been following the flock weekly or more often for over a year now and I have been a witness to this event.  There have been tens of thousands of crows in Ottawa and Vancouver all winter long for decades, but you have only one chance to document a first time event which is why I have put so much effort into this.  Our crows were not raised with any fixed pattern as to where to go or what to do.  They are still working it out.  They are creatures of habits, but not locked into them.  Their daily flight paths take them up to 20 km out of the city before sunrise, and they reappear after about 4 pm.  They have several “bus stops” where some crows wait for the main flock to come by then proceed to a larger gathering or staging site near the Inner Harbour a short time before sunset. Belle Island is popular for this, but right now it is the road to Fort Henry.  This is when there is the largest concentration, usually in the tops of the largest maple trees, but not always.   They are waiting for the sun to set, the sky to get dark, then they fly into the oldest parts of the city with the biggest maple trees and lots of lights around. Lots of noise, sirens do not bother them.  They could have stayed out in the countryside where it was quiet and dark, but there may be owls there.  Spooky!  There is usually a lot of commotion when they arrive, but after another 10 minutes they settle down for the night. They will leave a half hour before sunrise, so you have only a few minutes about sunset to see them. Tracking the city after dark, or flying cross country in the daytime adds to the difficulty of this project.  They are a remarkable and intelligent  bird. The flock is all healthy and well fed, none died even some nights below -20 C.   They eat a wide range of foods, but can do well on only maple tree buds, and there is an endless supply of them.”
If you would like to find out more info and/or see some great pictures Steve has said he would be happy to oblige –
 For more informationThere is a Facebook group “Crow Watch Kingston, Ontario” with a website at: Land Conservancy for Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington is also going to be hosting a webinar “TO KNOW THE CROW” on Sunday January 21st 2024 at 4 pm. The speaker will be Kevin McGowan, PhD, of Cornell University.For more information and/or to register seeTo Know the Crow: January 21, 2024 | Land Conservancy for Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (
1. All About Trees, Climate, and Tannery – Fun Get-Together
2. Climate Concerns and the City of Kingston – Deadline Jan 18
3. Climate Change Symposium at the Grand – Jan 29
4. Confederation Basin Promenade Project – Survey deadline Jan 18
5. Israelism – KFLA Library Film Showing and Discussion – Jan 21
6. “Growing up Human”, KFLA Library Series
7. Kingston Businesses Build On-Site Housing for Employees 
8. Great Lakes Start 2024 with Smallest Amount of Ice in at least 50 Years
9. Red Sea Attacks add “Significant Cost” to Global Shipping
10. Saving the Panama Canal Will Take Years and Cost Billions, If It’s Even Possible
11. How the Great Lakes Formed – And the Mystery of Who Watched it Happen
12. Winter Foraging: 50+ Wild Foods in the Snow
13. Ownership of Canada’s Shorelines and Responsibility for Fish Stewardship
14. How Asbestos Saved Cities, Before We Realized its Risks
15. Quebec’s Playbook for Beating Big Oil
16. The Ontario Trumpeter Swan Story
1. All About Trees and Tannery Destruction – Fun Get-Together
Received from Kathleen O’Hara of No Clearcuts Kingston, Jan 14, 2024 
No Clearcuts Kingston (NCK) is holding a rally to save Kingston’s trees!  
Sunday, February 4, from 2 to 5 pm, at the RCHA on Ontario St.
This is the day before the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) hearing begins re:
the developer’s appeal AGAINST City Council’s opposition to the Tannery forest
2,000-tree clearcut.
It will be an historic and fun event!  
People can find out how to watch the OLT hearing; hear the great evidence of
NCK’s Expert Witnesses; learn about other trees threatened in Kingston.  
It will also be NCK’s thank you to its many supporters and donors.
Live music: Savannah Shea, Greg Tilson (of The Gertrudes), and friends. 
NCK won the support of City Council when it refused to approve the proposed clearcut and mega-development!  We can win again! 
More info? Contact:
2. Reducing GHG emission by 50% by 2030 –  Deadline Jan 17
Received from 350kingston and Seniors for Climate Action Now, Jan 13, 2024
Open Letter to Kingston’s City Council to reduce GHG Emissions by 50% by 2030“On Jan. 23 City Council will discuss a motion to change Kingston’s 2030 greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal from 30% to 50%.
350 Kingston and Seniors for Climate Action Now! have written an open letter calling on Councillors to support the motion and to redouble their efforts to address the climate emergency.
To sign the open letter, use this link:
You can just read the open letter here:

Please sign the open letter by end of day on Jan. 17 – we will submit the open letter to council on Jan. 18 so they have time to consider it before the Jan. 23 council meeting – don’t delay! 
Our goal is to gather as many signatures from individuals and organizations as possible.
Please share this widely with your friends and neighbours.Please also send an email to your councillor or give them a phone call. 
It’s always more effective if councillors hear directly from citizens.
Council members and their emails and phone numbers are listed at this link: your email personal. Tell them how you are impacted by climate breakdown and why you are supporting the motion to lower Kingston GHG emissions by 50% by 2030.  Here are some points to consider in drafting your email and / or speaking with your Councillor:– In 2021 Kingston set a goal to lower GHG emissions by 15% by 2022 and 30% by 2030. The recently released report on 2022 GHG emissions shows the city failed to achieve its goal. City wide GHG emissions were only reduced by 3.5%. They need to do more.- Kingston positions itself as a climate leader – but it is falling behind other communities. It is failing to do its fair share and it is failing the residents of Kingston.- 2023 was the hottest year on record, by far – and scientists are ringing the alarm bells.  
– In 2015 in Paris political leaders worldwide agreed to try to hold the risein global temperature to under 1.5C above pre-industrial levels this century. We are on track to exceed that, and soon. And even a 1.5C threshold spells devastation for many communities, as well as biodiversity, due to heatwaves, drought, flood and wildfires.- The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2023 report, recommends a 50% reduction in GHG emissions if we are to secure a liveable future.- We are living with the effects of global warming now and inaction or insufficient action spells more suffering and loss. We’ve just experienced the hottest year on record and the worst wildfires in Canadian history. Parents had to keep children indoors because of the air quality due to wildfire smoke. Global warming is already impacting our community, our lives, and our health. 
 – Seniors are particularly vulnerable to the health impacts of global warming – as are other vulnerable communities.- Councillors have a responsibility to protect residents and to protectour shared futures for our children and our grandchildren.- 50% GHG emissions reduction by 2030 is the bare minimum needed to align with climate science and ensure we are doing our fair share in the fight for a liveable future.”
3. Climate Change Symposium at the Grand – Jan 29
What: “Balance:  Climate, Nature and Technology”
Who: Sponsored by Sustainable Kingston:
Keynote speaker is Bob McDonald of QUIRKS AND Quarks. 
Second speaker is Ewa Jackson, managing director at ICLEI, an organization that works with local governments toward municipal climate change adaptation and resilience in climate communications. A panel discussion with Q&A on biodiversity will be hosted by Geoff Hendry and will include Maureen Buchanon from All our Relations Land Trust and Holly Evans from the Cataraqui Conservation Authority – to discuss the importance of biodiversity in Southeastern Ontario.  Additional panelists tba.
The returning emcee is Ali Hassan, CBC broadcaster and host of stand-up comedy show Laugh Out Loud
Where: Kingston Grand Theatre, Rosen Auditorium, 218 Princess St. Kingston,
When: Mon, Jan 29, 1 pm
Cost: Adult $20; Student $15 4. Confederation Basin Promenade Project – Survey deadline Jan 18
Received from the City of Kingston, Jan 8, 2024
We are excited to share the latest design update for the Confederation Basin Promenade project!
Our team has been actively working on the design for the promenade and the enhanced entry area featuring a shade structure, seating areas and picnic tables, planters, stepped terraces to the water’s edge and more.
Please take a moment to review the latest designs and let us know your thoughts.”
You are invited to review the latest designs and share your comments through an online survey available until January 18.
Feedback can also be shared by phone or email. Please call 613-546-0000 Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or contact Laurie Paquin at
5. Israelism – KFLA Library Film Showing & Discussion – Jan 21
Received from Independent Jewish Voices Kingston
What:  The film, Israelism, explores how some young American Jews discover that they were taught only the Israeli narrative about Israel/Palestine.  Discussion with film producers after the showing.
Who:  Independent Jewish Voices Kingston and Erin Axelman, Director and Producer
Why:  A peaceful and just end to the conflict in Israel/Palestine is desperately needed NOW. Organizers hope the showing of this film and a high turnout will contribute to that goal.
When: Sunday, Jan 21, 1;30 pm
Where: Kingston Frontenac Public Library Central Branch meeting Room 1
Watch the
6. “Growing up Human”, KFLA Library Series
Received from the Kingstonist, Jan 8, 2024 – Jessica Foley
The Kingston Frontenac Public Library has announced the return of Growing Up Human, a collaborative initiative between the Child and Adolescent Development Research Group at Queen’s University and Kingston Frontenac Public Library (KFPL).
Launched in January 2022, the Growing up Human series ( is of special interest to parents and caregivers, and each talk is on a different aspect of child development.
Growing Up Human is a series dedicated to bridging research with community engagement, offering valuable perspectives on child and adolescent development,” said Jake Miller, Librarian, Adult Programming.
“The wealth of expertise within our community is a valuable resource, assisting educators, researchers and caregivers in preparing the next generation for challenges ahead.”
The 2024 series begins with an engaging session, ‘Reading Into Bullying: Defining Childhood Bullying and Related Supportive Resources’, according to a media release from KFPL. Parents and caregivers attending the session, featuring a presentation by Ph.D. candidate and teaching fellow Kyla Maine, can expect to gain a comprehensive understanding of childhood bullying, the library shared.
KFPL stated that this knowledge will empower parents to actively contribute to creating a supportive environment for their children.
The event is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024, from 2 to 3 p.m. at the Central Branch. According to the release, it is designed to provide practical insights into identifying signs of bullying, addressing its root causes, and fostering resilience in young minds. Attendees will also be able to explore existing resources to combat this critical issue.
Registration is required for the event, where participants will learn how bullying develops and tackle common misconceptions about bullyingSign up now
7. Kingston Businesses Build On-Site Housing for Employees
Thanks Mike Cole Hamilton for this interesting link received Jan 11
8Great Lakes start 2024 with smallest amount of ice in at least 50 yearsThe Washington Post, January 2, 2024. The Great Lakes had the smallest amount of ice cover this New Year’s Day in at least the past 50 years and are on track to see less than the seasonal average this winter, according to government data. The decline comes during a five-decade drop in ice cover that experts say is due in part to human-caused climate change.

9.  Red Sea attacks add ‘significant cost’ to global shipping, Canada and allies warnGlobal News, January 3, 2024. Canada and its allies are warning that disruptions from attacks on shipping vessels in the Red Sea are “adding significant cost” and delays to global shipping. A joint statement Wednesday from Canada, the United States, United Kingdom and a host of other nations reiterates condemnation of Houthi attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea, noting a “significant escalation” over the past week.
Editor’s Note: And more recently the repercussions are being felt with a US strike and now a Houthi ballistic missile strike in retaliation. And so it goes.
10Saving the Panama Canal will take years and cost billions, if it’s even possibleThe Seattle Times, January 7, 2024.  A few hundred feet from the massive tankers hauling goods across the globe, gaunt tree stumps rise above the waterline.  They’re all that remains of a woodland flooded more than a century ago to create the canal.  It’s not unusual to see them at the height of the dry season – but now, in the immediate aftermath of what’s usually the rainy period, they should be fully submerged.  They’re a visible reminder of how parched conditions have crippled a waterway that handles $270 billion a year in global trade.  The Panama Canal Authority is weighing potential fixes that include an artificial lake to pump water into the canal and cloud seeding t
11How the Great Lakes Formed – And the Mystery of Who Watched It HappenAtlas Obscura, January 11, 2024.  Thanks to innovative technology, determination, and luck, archaeologists are bringing lost human history to the surface, and piecing together the mystery of a hunter-gatherer society unlike any other in the region.  For generations, people watched the Great Lakes form and adapted as the landscape changed again and again.
12. Winter Foraging: 50+ Wild Foods in the Snow
Received from Practical Self Reliance, Jan 8, 2024
13. Ownership of Canada’s Shorelines and Responsibility for Fish Stewardship
Received from Blue Fish Canada, Jan 15, 2024 -Lawrence Gunther
Editor’s Note: A really interesting personal story of living and fishing down east
This Week’s Feature – Ownership of Canada’s Shorelines and Responsibility for Fish Stewardship
Prepared by President Lawrence Gunther
In 1986 I purchased a half-acre on Catalone Gut in Cape Breton Nova Scotia and took possession of what to me was my first shoreline property. I remember the lawyer I hired to close the deal telling me, “There’s only so much shoreline, and once it’s all purchased it’s gone.” Of course, I was more interested in the fish that I imagined living beneath the waves of the brackish water that began where the mouth of the Catalone River broadened out to 1.5 km in width for a 5 km stretch before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean.  It didn’t take long before I was obsessed with learning the habitats and seasonal movements of the Brook Trout, Pollock, Cod and Atlantic Salmon that lived in, or migrated through the gut between the ocean and the river. Fish aside, I was also curious about the history of the area and who may have spent time on my 70 meters of shoreline before me? 
Catalone Gut had no more than a couple dozen shoreline property owners, most of us having purchased our lots from descendants of a family that homesteaded a quarter section of land over 100 years earlier, and then subdivided the land to sell off the more lucrative shoreline lots. It was a legal process established to encourage settlers to generate economic activity on what the government considered to be unused land, and led to more complex legal transactions that further deepened legal title to these properties, as well as wealth generation by their further development and sale. It all seemed completely legitimate at the time. I was led to believe that my purchase made me the second owner of a small piece of Canada’s wilderness, which technically may have been the case, but which we have now come to realize isn’t necessarily the truth. 
I always suspected deep-down that surely there must have been others who followed this shoreline either by foot or canoe, and quite possibly have occupied the land at some point. After-all, France had established Fortress Louisburg as its centre for governance and trade in Atlantic Canada in 1713 just 20 kilometers away. 
Throughout my 14-years of owning land and a cabin in Cape Breton, a First Nations man named Donald Marshall was in the news a lot. First, with his being wrongly found guilty and sentenced for murder, and then charged in 1983, a year after being released from prison, with harvesting and selling fish out of season and without a license. Twice in his life Donald Marshall would have criminal charges over-turned, culminating in his securing a Supreme Court victory in 1999 reaffirming his right to fish commercially. Donald’s latest victory was based on his being a member of a Mi’kmaq First Nation community located on Cape Breton that had entered into a treaty with the Crown in 1760 affirming their right to fish and hunt. His Supreme Court ruling paved the way for indigenous people across Canada to earn a “moderate” commercial livelihood from fishing and hunting, subject only to conservation requirements. 
What happened to Donald and his seemingly impossible fight in one court after another signified the beginning of a seismic shift in how non-indigenous commercial fishers could engage in commercial fisheries in Canada from which they and their ancestors had prospered for over 500 years. Ironically, it was seven years before Donald’s supreme court decision was handed down that the Atlantic Cod fishery had collapsed and was shut down, throwing tens-of-thousands of Atlantic Canadians out of work, myself included. 
The First Nations Mi’kmaq people who live in Nova Scotia, for the most part, exist separate from the vast majority of the descendants of those who began arriving following John Cabot’s arrival in Cape Breton in 1487. It’s a disconnection that settlers seldom spoke about until Donald Marshall won his Supreme Court ruling, and now with reconciliation. The socio-economic divide between Cape Breton’s Mi’kmaq and settlers reminded me in several ways of my own challenges at the time.  
Despite my spending 14 summers in Cape Breton and making many friends, I couldn’t help but feel as if I was never fully accepted as a member of the community. I came to learn that being regarded as “from away” was not unique to Cape Breton, but an experience I shared with others who visited or moved to Atlantic Canada – people who did not possess deep local family ties in the region. Sure, I made friends, but seldom received invitations to community celebrations. And, when I spoke to others from away who moved to the area to work, I was told that taking a job from a local often led to being “black-balled”, a term describing the social isolation of being physically acknowledged but socially excluded.
I also understand what it is like to be stereotyped. As a person without sight, my own position and value within society is often regarded as inconsequential, or worse, a drain on community resources. Thankfully, technology has allowed me to assimilate into the mainstream of society by becoming recognized as a contributor. Eliminating exclusionary practices such as residential schools for the blind and the adoption of Canada’s Charter of Rights and freedoms in 1982 have also facilitated the mainstream socio-economic integration of people like me with disabilities. 
Learning about the arrival of European settlers to Cape Breton, or what was once referred to by the French as Port Royal, is explained in part by historic actors hired to animate Eastern Canada’s largest living museum, Fortress Louisburg. I was a frequent visitor to the fort to learn how settlers lived over 250 years before my arrival in the area. Much of the Fortress within the walls had been restored, but other than one stone home meant to replicate the typical housing of a Cod fisher, nothing was rebuilt outside of the fortress walls. References to Mi’kmaq people who traded with fortress settlers were sparse. As with the textbooks I was provided in school, few details were shared about indigenous people throughout North America. 
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Abraham Francis, a Mohawk from the First Nations community of Akwesasne located on the St. Lawrence River near Cornwall Ontario. Abraham and I talked about his people’s historic relationship to the land, the water and the game, and how this all suddenly and relatively recently changed. First with the introduction of settlers and the wars they brought to the region, and then the environmental impacts heavy industry had on the land and water. Abraham explained how toxins were introduced into the land and water had forced his people to turn away from the water. To suspend their reliance on fish for food and trade due to health warnings over fish consumption. 
Having grown up in a culture that defined itself on land and home ownership and the right to private property, I find it difficult to imagine what it was like to live the blend of nomadic and community life Abe described. Yes, I stir my deeply imbedded internal feelings of provider when I fish, but I come from ancestors who strove to own land and to farm. 
Both my parents were born on farms in Europe. My father’s family lived as farmers in Ukraine for three generations, and were then displaced during World War II, resulting in my family’s farm being seized and my father’s father being sent to Siberia. At age 18 my father found work on a farm where he met my mother. That farm would eventually belong to my mother’s younger brother, so my father and mother moved to Canada to start over yet again. 
I learned to understand what my father lived through, and I think this helps me to understand what indigenous people in Canada must feel. The difference is my father was able to relocate, start over, and not experience systemic discrimination even though he came from away. Indigenous people not only lost their land but have faced all manner of discrimination for hundreds of years. We are only just starting to gain awareness of what this all entails.
Link below to listen to my conversation with Abraham Frances, environmental scientists, Mohawk of Akwesasne, on The Blue Fish Radio Show. Abe is sorting through what happened to his people who have lived for thousands of years along the shores of the St. Lawrence River. He’s working hard to restore and rebuild his community and their connection to the land, water and fish.–58298561
Our contamination of fishes in the St. Lawrence River, whether intentional or not, have seriously undermined the Mohawk’s people’s way of life, similar to how the collapse of the cod fishery in Atlantic Canada ended 500 years of small-scale local fisheries. Expecting Mohawk people to turn their backs on the river after thousands of years due to the legacy of heavy industrial activity is similar to our forcing the closure of coastal communities in Atlantic Canada due to large-scale industrial over-fishing, it’s just wrong and should never have happened. In order to rectify these injustices, we also need to sort out who owns and controls which land and resources. 
The current system of reservations and crown land fails to acknowledge indigenous rights and treaties. Donald Marshall may have established a precedent overfishing rights, but this too needs to be interpreted and implemented more widely as excluding indigenous fishers from commercial fisheries is another on-going injustice. 
Many difficult discussions still to be had, but good relations mean having such conversations. All this would be made easier if we knew more about indigenous people, their culture, values and history, something that’s still sorely lacking in our schools and throughout Canada. 
Stay tuned for more in-depth analysis of small-scale fisheries, their social, economic and conservation benefits, and why reconciliation isn’t a simple matter of turning over industrial-scale fisheries to indigenous-led incorporations if we are going to establish strong and sustainable commercial fishing opportunities throughout Canada. Many indigenous leaders acknowledge that establishing truly sustainable commercial fisheries will take a “two-eye” perspective, which sounds to me like a pretty good place to start. Finding commonality is another. 

14. How Asbestos Saved Cities, Before We Realized its Risks
Received Jan 11, 2024 from – Mano Majumdar
The Asbestos Times
Few materials fell from grace like asbestos. Once cherished as an almost-magical material, it is now the archetypal carcinogen. We spent over a century integrating it into buildings, wiring, pipes, brake pads, and more, and we now spend billions of dollars a year removing it. 
But the standard story of asbestos as a mistake – or even a crime – of massive proportions does not do justice to the real benefits it brought. Asbestos was central to mitigating urban fires, which cost thousands of lives each year as modern cities grew larger, denser, and more flammable. But as we learned to control urban fires without it, asbestos’s health costs seemed less and less worth bearing. Asbestos is in its final days and soon the material will almost disappear entirely. Miracle materials are not all manmade. Asbestos is a family of six naturally occurring silicates, made from the same elemental blocks as sand or glass, organized in delicate fibrous strands that tease apart like cotton candy and compare with steel in tensile strength. Chrysotile or white asbestos, the commercially dominant form, is a serpentine silicate, with fibrous strands that crumble to the touch; the remaining five are amphiboles (including crocidolite, blue asbestos), spiky forests of short and fragile needles. In all its forms, asbestos has remarkable properties: it’s light, waterproof, and, most famously, fireproof.
The unique structure of asbestos requires a unique set of circumstances to form. The fibers of asbestos are crystals precipitated out of a solution of minerals in hot water under pressure. This is hydrothermal synthesis,  a process used to grow artificial crystals in laboratory settings (or candy from syrup). The low-silica rocks in which asbestos originates are found naturally across the planet, and asbestos has been found and mined on every inhabited continent.
The first written record of asbestos was by Theophrastus, who categorized it correctly by including it in his mineralogical work, On Stones. He did better than most, considering that an animal origin for asbestos was a common misconception in the ancient world: asbestos was credited to everything from phoenix feathers to the mythical salamander to Princess Bride–style literal volcano-dwelling fire rats.
Its rarity and invulnerability to fire gave asbestos an air of mystique and an association with power. Charlemagne is said to have had a tablecloth of pure asbestos that he would throw into the fire as a party trick, and Emperor Ashoka of India sent a gift of asbestos cloth to Sri Lanka. Earnest pilgrims into the Holy Land were sold pieces of asbestos cloth as remnants of the Holy Shroud, made credible by their immunity to fire. Benjamin Franklin paid for his time in Europe by selling an asbestos purse to a collector (for which he was paid ‘handsomely’). Yet asbestos existed only as an interesting novelty without a clear use.
That use case came into being in the late nineteenth century. The fast-growing cities of the time were exceptionally flammable, with densely clustered buildings full of wood, fabric, and open flames. Electrification was new; fire codes were yet to become ubiquitous (or stringently applied). In some cases, even roads were made of timber.
Unsurprisingly, ‘Great Fires’ struck virtually every major city. Theaters, full of flammable set elements and a tightly packed audience, were a frequent source of fire. The risky productions themselves did not help – 31 of the 1,108 theater fires documented worldwide between 1797 and 1897 were started by fireworks on the stage.
Theater fires started mostly on the stage and then spread to the audience. It was critical that the two areas be separated to protect the audience. Theater owners attempted to separate the stage and audience with heavy curtains of sheet metal, called ‘iron curtains’. Experiments on a scale model following a fire in Vienna’s Ringtheatre in 1881 showed their limitations. A fire on the stage would blow the hot metal curtain out onto the audience it was meant to protect, not only endangering them but also extinguishing the gaslights meant to light the way to safety. In other instances, the curtain could collapse onto the stage or fail to descend at all.
Engineers and regulators experimented with a diversity of materials for safety curtains, settling on asbestos. The 1903 fire at the Iroquois Theatre in Chicago led to an exemplary institutional response. The Iroquois supposedly had an asbestos curtain that failed to come down during the fire, but later investigation of the remnants of the curtain revealed that the curtain was mostly vegetable fiber. Following the fire, Chicago ordered all its theaters to be closed down immediately, while in New York inspectors went around setting fire to theater curtains, in search of dupes being passed off as asbestos by noncompliant ownership. The message now was clear: asbestos, or nothing.
Theaters were not the only place where fires were common. Movie theaters, schools, hotels, hospitals, ships, and ports all existed under the threat of fire. Asbestos was gradually introduced in each. 
Ports were particularly keen on fire safety. A fire port-side could easily spread among ships and destroy them, as it did famously in the 1900 Hoboken Docks fire in New Jersey. A fire that started in bales of cotton stored on a pier spread with the wind to stores of flammable turpentine and oil, which exploded in quick succession. Within 45 minutes, the fire had destroyed three piers and three major transatlantic liners belonging to the Norddeutscher Lloyd shipping company, and claimed over 200 lives. Navies and merchant navies were eager and early adopters of asbestos. When Norddeutscher Lloyd finally rebuilt the pier, asbestos felt was among the materials used.
The first mass-produced asbestos products in the United States were gas fireplaces, eventually joined by protective suits for firefighters and materials for roofing, felting, and boiler insulation. Asbestos became the standard material for applications as diverse as brake pad linings and insulation for electrical wiring. In the case of brake pad linings, asbestos was the only reliable material until well into the 1940s, and remains one of the few permitted uses in the United States todayScientific American wrote in 1919 that ‘new uses of this material are being found almost daily’.
Production kept pace: prices fell from $128 per ton to $30 per ton in the United States from 1890–1904 following the discovery of commercially viable deposits in Canada and improved methods of refinement and transport. It was rapidly becoming price competitive in construction in the form of roofing tiles and in products where it could be blended with cheaper material, as in asbestos stucco and asbestos-cement shingles. One particularly clever product was asbestos paint, which made wooden structures flame-retardant. Patented in 1878, it was already on federal buildings, including the US Capitol, by 1879. 
Asbestos became more important than ever in World War II. It was classified as a critical material by the US War Production Board, and its scope expanded from its traditional roles of fireproofing, friction reduction, and insulation to substituting other materials that were even more desperately needed elsewhere. It became the material of choice for aircraft hangars and ordnance stores, military prefabs, ductwork, and even common gutters and downspouts. Soon, conservation orders were issued limiting its use and privileging defense applications.
The Navy was at the forefront of asbestos use. Shipboard fires engulfed vessels that had limited means of fire suppression. Newer classes of ships such as the Essex featured asbestos curtains and fire doors, and no ships were lost to fire after 1942. In later years, as many as a third of all asbestos-related cancer cases in the US would be linked to US Navy ships or shipyards.
The postwar era combined a heightened awareness of the risk of fire with a massive wave of new construction. Asbestos was cheap enough to use in every building. America produced and imported asbestos at a fantastic rate. Asbestos consumption tripled between 1940 and 1950, increasing from 240,000 metric tons to 400,000 metric tons from 1940–1941 alone. At one point, as many as 4,000 products contained asbestos, including toothpaste. Things would soon change.As early as 1898, factory inspectors noted the effects of asbestos on workers who breathed in its fibers, with one going so far as to call it ‘the evil dust’ (safety reports were a lot more colorful then). A 1918 report to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, ‘Mortality from Respiratory Diseases in Dusty Trades’, explained that ‘in the practice of American and Canadian life insurance companies asbestos workers are generally declined on account of the assumed health-injurious conditions of the industry’.
In 1924, Nellie Kershaw, a 33-year-old British asbestos spinner, died. The inquest concluded that the cause of her death was suffocation traced to profound scarring of her lung tissue from being lacerated with microscopic asbestos fibers. The coroner who led the inquest called it ‘asbestos poisoning’. Her employer, the largest asbestos factory in the world and the owner of asbestos mines in Canada and South Africa, rejected the report.
Nellie Kershaw’s death was not entirely without consequence. The coroner pressed on, publishing his results in The British Medical Journal. Kershaw’s illness now had a name – asbestosis – and a British government survey of the asbestos industry in 1930 found that a quarter of all workers were suffering from it. The next year, Britain passed Asbestos Industry Regulations, 1931, the world’s first regulation dealing specifically with asbestos.
That did not immediately put a stop to asbestos, even in the United Kingdom. The event that finally did set off a wave of asbestos bans across advanced economies came over 30 years later, at a conference convened at the New York Academy of Sciences in 1964.
This conference was organized by Irving J. Selikoff of New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital. Selikoff had spent years interviewing workers involved with asbestos, among them asbestos weavers, pipe insulators, and shipyard workers. He later published results in 1965 and 1968 that suggested asbestos might be a carcinogen, but at the 1964 conference, he may have had his greatest impact by catalyzing the conversation in the first place. The conference itself was largely a consolidation of already available knowledge and presented little that was new or surprising, but the momentum it generated made a definite difference, and in the case of Selikoff, enemies. 
Asbestos use collapsed in the wealthy world almost as dramatically as it had risen. The bans took off, slowly, in the early seventies. Denmark was first, banning asbestos for insulation and waterproofing in 1972. Sweden followed with a ban on asbestos spraying in 1973. The first total ban came in 1980, with Denmark again leading the charge. Each successive decade saw more jurisdictions join in restricting the use of asbestos, partially or fully, for the first time: eight more in the 1980s, 24 in the 1990s, and 36 in the 2000s. The bans were augmented with requirements to remove asbestos where found in existing buildings. As the threat of fire dwindled, Asbestos prohibitions spread. 
Asbestos is now banned in at least 66 countries, including all members of the European Union, the United Kingdom, Japan, Australia, and South Africa. The United States is often cited as a rare industrialized country without a total ban, but it was no laggard in pursuing restrictions, either. The first American restriction came in 1973, followed in quick succession by further restrictions in 1975, 1977, and 1978. An effort by the Environmental Protection Agency to ban asbestos completely in 1989 was the closest the United States came to a complete ban on asbestos. In 1991, a Federal appeals court overturned provisions of the ban that would have come into force in 1993 and 1996, effectively protecting asbestos use in brake drum linings, roofing and flooring felt, and asbestos tiles. Despite this, the popularity of asbestos in the United States continued to fall.
The move against asbestos in the United States was globally consequential. The United States had traditionally imported nearly all of its asbestos and was the largest asbestos importer in the world. In 1970, the United States had imported close to 590,000 metric tons of asbestos; in 2000, this had collapsed to below 15,000 metric tons. Global trade in asbestos fell from 2.4 million to 1 million metric tons between 1970 and 2000, and the United States was responsible for 40 percent of this decline in volume.
Substitutes have been found for most applications. The majority of substitutes are natural or synthetic fibers that are not considered carcinogenic. Asbestos has been replaced in fiber-reinforced cement by cellulose fibers, in insulation by fiberglass and mineral wool, and in clothing by aramid fibers.
Elsewhere, its unique confluence of useful properties has proved harder to replicate. Asbestos cement, which was used to make cheap, durable pipes and prefabricated sheets for wall cladding, was by far the biggest use of asbestos, accounting for 80 percent of asbestos production in 1988. A particularly interesting niche where asbestos persists is in the production of chlorine. Asbestos diaphragms are used in the chlor-alkali process, the dominant technology for manufacturing chlorine, to separate the anode and cathode of an electrolytic cell. An alternative method uses polymer membranes instead. These methods have traditionally been considered ‘low concern’ from a health and safety standpoint; some researchers now suggest that we should be more concerned, but switching to the alternative method is expensive.
The economic case for asbestos slowed its decline in many places. Canada’s exit was particularly protracted, given its former status as a leading producer. The costs of damages and litigation, over $70 billion in the United States alone, have resulted in widespread bankruptcies of asbestos manufacturers and closures of asbestos mines. The last asbestos mine in Canada, which was also the world’s largest, discontinued operations in 2011. While Canada ceased mining, a ban on export did not come into force until the penultimate day of 2018. The town of Asbestos, Quebec, home to that final mine, abandoned its name in 2020.
The costs of abatement have been just as significant. That asbestos is implicated in asbestosis (limited mostly to workers with direct exposure, such as Nellie Kershaw) and mesothelioma (cancer of the mesothelium, which forms a lining around the lungs) is universally accepted. What’s controversial is the benefit from removing asbestos from all structures, given the risk to building occupants tends to be low. It is instead people who work directly with high concentrations of asbestos – such as shipyard and textile workers – who are at high risk.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates there are over 700,000 public and commercial buildings in the US that contain asbestos, as well as 45 percent of the nation’s 100,000 schools. The number of residential buildings that contain asbestos is simply not known. Rachel Maines, the author of Asbestos and Fire, figures essentially every building constructed in the twentieth century prior to 1980 contains it. The requirement to remove asbestos in the built environment wherever found, so-called “in-place” asbestos, has given rise to an abatement industry in the United States with annual revenues already exceeding three billion dollars. These are expensive projects, where a consultant must be retained, workers must wear protective gear, and the worksite must be isolated with negative pressure.

The cost of such abatement at a national scale would likely run into hundreds of billions of dollars, for uncertain benefits. Asbestos is dangerous only when inhaled, and it cannot be inhaled except as airborne fibers that are released when asbestos is disturbed. Since abatement takes the form of ripping or scraping off asbestos from the places where it is found, it generates clouds of airborne fibers where there were none, and needs to be disposed of very carefully by abatement workers. 
While the health consequences of removing asbestos are not yet fully understood, there are not currently reasons to be concerned. And natural sources of asbestos can confound data. For example, a large study using data across California found that the odds of developing mesothelioma declined by 6.3 percent for each ten kilometers of distance from the nearest source of environmental asbestos. If members of the ‘control group’ in a study, who are assumed to have no exposure to asbestos, actually had natural exposure to asbestos, researchers would underestimate the harms they face and the risks of further exposure to asbestos in occupational work.
How many lives did asbestos itself save in the final reckoning, net of the deaths it caused? It’s impossible to say. This is what we know: Fire deaths fell by over 90 percent in the United States over the twentieth century; asbestos was present in thousands of applications as a fire retardant; and without effective brake pads, the roads would have been much more dangerous. However, at the same time that asbestos became ubiquitous, fire codes matured, firefighting technology improved, and the insurance industry laid down stringent requirements for coverage.
There are common-sense compromises that sit between complete complacency and abatement regardless of cost. New York City Local Law 76/85 required asbestos to be removed in the cases of demolitions and renovations, but did not call for it to be removed proactively from all places where it existed. Theater remains an iconic industry in New York City, and many theaters continue to have asbestos curtains.
The same calculus features in global attitudes toward asbestos. Even as the developed world has abandoned asbestos, others have expanded their production. The two leading producers are Russia and Kazakhstan, which have built upon Soviet-era operations to account for over 83 percent of all exports. The market is similarly concentrated on the importers side as well – the three largest importers of asbestos account for over 65 percent of all imports, and the top ten are all in Asia. Russia is itself a major consumer, in third place behind China and India.
India, where asbestos is called ‘the poor man’s material’ and asbestos roofs are an alternative to safer, but more expensive, tin or fiberglass roofs, is also beginning to move away from asbestos. The country banned the domestic production of asbestos in 1986, but not its use, becoming the largest importer of asbestos in the world by 2003. In 2011, the Supreme Court of India denied a public interest filing to ban asbestos, favoring continued regulation by states instead. In 2018, the western state of Maharashtra forbade the inclusion of asbestos in regional development plans. The following year, the southern state of Kerala ordered the removal of asbestos roofing in schools.
The impact on trade figures has been slow but certain. The global trade in asbestos fell from over $500 million to under $300 million from 2012–2018, with India reducing imports by over $100 million, the most of any country. The next-largest importers, Indonesia and China, also cut down. As these countries grow richer, they too may soon decide that the costs of asbestos have come to outweigh its benefits.
Mano Majumdar is a management consultant at a global consulting firm. He has a background in chemical engineering, and has taught at a leading Canadian business school.
15. Quebec’s Playbook for Beating Big Oil 
Received from The Breach, Jan 15, 2024
16. The Ontario Trumpeter Swan Story
Received from the Ontario Trumpeter Swan Society via the Kingston Field Naturalists, Jan 15, 2024
What: Webinar – Harry Lumsden and how he led the restoration of swans to the province of Ontario
Who: Kyna Intini (Trumpeter Swan Conservation Ontario), Ken Abraham (ON Ministry of Nat. Resources and Forestry), Gary Lane (ON Trumpeter Swan locations data manager)
When: Wed, Jan 17, 2024, 6:30 pm
NOTES: The webinar is free but registration is required 
So that’s it for January,
Hope you are out there enjoying the snow a bit more than shoveling it.
Mary Farrar,