Living on a Tropical Island—and an Asbestos Wasteland

April 15, 2016 at 1:48 PM


A picture of a woman cooking in her home, an abandoned building made of asbestos.

Just a few hundred people now live on Banaba, which was left nearly uninhabitable in 1979 after extensive phosphate mining by the British Phosphate Commission. (You can read more about the history of the mining and displacement of the Banaba in “Stories From the Forgotten People of the Pacific).” Though the current residents are happy to be living on their ancestral homeland, they have also spent decades surrounded by asbestos dust.

Inhaling the dust can cause lung cancer and mesothelioma, both fatal diseases, along with other lung-related disorders. Even short-term exposure to can lead to diseases later in life. Asbestos use has been heavily restricted throughout the developed world for decades, but the people of the isolated Pacific island of Banaba have just recently learned of its dangers—and continue to reside amid crumbling buildings made from the toxic substance.

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