Nanda Gonzague, Asbestos Valley, from PRIVATE 45 – Development. An Ecological Question
In the confines of Calvados and Orne (France), the Vere valley is also known as the «valley of death». It is emblematic of the devastation caused by asbestos. Between 1927 and 1996, from Conde-sur-Noireau to Flers, 2700 workers for the automotive parts maker Ferodo-Valeo as well as the inhabitants of the surrounding towns were exposed to the fatal dust. The link between exposure to the mineral and respiratory illness was first brought to attention as early as 1906, but that safety officer’s report quickly became a dead letter, and it took years for the dangers of asbestos to be officially recognised.
Today, asbestos has put an entire population in jeopardy, suffocated by the reality of the disease and the difficulty of responding to it. The older members of the community remember the valley completely covered in white asbestos dust. The women and children came into contact with the asbestos when the men came back from the factory. Today it is rare to find a family who doesn’t have at least one victim among their mothers, fathers, uncles or other family members. France finally banned asbestos use in 1996, but that was too late for those living in and around Vere valley. There isn’t a week goes by without 2 or 3 people being buried. Asbestos causes the death of 3000 people a year in France, and is predicted to kill up to 100,000 between now and 2025.