Evidence shows that humans started using asbestos at least 4,500 years ago, but it was not until the mid-19th- century that industrial production and widespread use of this mineral started. It’s easy to see why people were attracted to asbestos: it is heat and fire-resistant, can be used as an electrical insulator, and can be utilized to produce flexible objects such as sheets, which were used extensively for insulation in the construction industry.
The Canadian province of Quebec has large deposits of asbestos, which were once mined extensively over the past two centuries. Unsurprisingly, the mining of asbestos became inextricably linked with the identity of some communities that developed around the mines. So much so, that a town even decided to name itself after the mineral, and in the year 1899 the town of Asbestos was officially born.
Coincidentally, 1899 was also the year in which the first report on the health hazards of asbestos was filed. However, it was not until the 1970s that information about the toxicity of asbestos became widespread and demand for the mineral started falling. It was a slow, but steady decline that eventually led to the closure of the last asbestos mine in Asbestos in 2012. Eager to shed any association with the harmful mineral, the inhabitants of Asbestos decided to change the name of their town to Val-des-Sources (Valley of the Springs) in 2020.
Today, the open-air mine is filled with water and it is off-limits to visitors, but an observation platform was built on the adjacent hill and gives a commanding view of the mine from a safe distance.