Paul Brodeur, journalist who uncovered asbestos hazards, dies at 92

Paul Brodeur, who wrote evocative, richly detailed brief tales and novels however was best-known for his crusading environmental journalism within the pages of the New Yorker, notably in articles that helped expose the well being hazards of asbestos and the hazard that industrial chemical substances posed to the ozone layer, died Aug. 2 at a hospital in Hyannis, Mass. He was 92.

His daughter, writer Adrienne Brodeur, confirmed the loss of life. Mr. Brodeur had pneumonia, she stated, and had been in declining well being after a hip-replacement surgical procedure.

After the loss of life in 1964 of Rachel Carson, whose environmental basic “Silent Spring” was serialized within the New Yorker, Mr. Brodeur took up the mantle of environmental writing on the journal, delving into public well being points and occupational hazards in multipart investigative articles that intertwined historical past, science and muckraking journalism. He turned his reporting into 9 books — together with works on poisonous chemical substances, microwave radiation and Native American land rights — whereas additionally writing fiction on the aspect, demonstrating what Washington Publish reviewer S.Okay. Oberbeck as soon as described as “a jeweler’s eye for all times’s tough sides and buried fissures.”

Mr. Brodeur’s first lengthy article for the New Yorker, a 1968 piece referred to as “The Magic Mineral,” was a journalistic tour de drive, detailing the historical past of asbestos — a fire-resistant constructing materials utilized in air-conditioning programs, brake pads and 1000’s of different merchandise — and highlighting the hyperlink between most cancers and asbestos employees, a lot of whom died of mesothelioma.

Whereas researchers had linked asbestos to illness way back to the early twentieth century, Mr. Brodeur’s article introduced nationwide consideration to the problem, spurring asbestos activism and laws, in line with Barry Castleman, a chemical engineer and the writer of a public well being historical past of the hazardous minerals.

“This was the primary widespread public consciousness of asbestos air air pollution as a hazard to most people,” Castleman stated in a tribute for the Asbestos Illness Consciousness Group.

Mr. Brodeur continued to report on asbestos for the following 15 years, chronicling its use in constructing insulation, the risks it posed whilst a mud introduced dwelling on folks’s garments, and the efforts of trade officers and their allies to maintain the substance in the marketplace. He stated he as soon as had lunch with a Navy physician who downplayed the well being dangers, insisting that no matter any opposed results, asbestos was essential to the event of submarines that have been important to the Chilly Battle battle in opposition to the Soviet Union.

“Simply bear in mind,” the doctor instructed him, “you may get chest illness from digging in your backyard.”

In 1974, Mr. Brodeur gained a Nationwide Journal Award for a five-part sequence that examined the shutdown and cleanup of a Pittsburgh Corning asbestos plant in Tyler, Tex. Some 875 employees have been uncovered to the substance, and round 260 have been statistically anticipated to develop most cancers. Mr. Brodeur discovered that waste from the manufacturing facility had made its manner throughout the town, with some asbestos-laced luggage going to a nursery that used them to package deal vegetation, whilst native politicians praised the manufacturing facility’s financial advantages.

“I feel we’re all prepared to have little little bit of crud in our lungs, and a full abdomen fairly than a complete lot of fresh air and nothing to eat. And I don’t desire a bunch of environmentalists and communists telling me what’s good for my life and household,” he quoted a Texas legislator from Tyler as saying.

A federal ban was imposed on many asbestos merchandise in 1989, though the substance has not been fully outlawed in the US.

Mr. Brodeur subsequent targeted on chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, manufactured chemical substances that have been extensively utilized in aerosol sprays and air conditioners, amongst different merchandise. His 1975 report on the topic was among the many first to focus on the function that the gases performed in depleting the ozone layer. He went on to detail analysis suggesting {that a} gap within the ozone might threaten to change climate patterns, harm crops and elevate pores and skin most cancers charges, a 12 months earlier than the manufacturing of CFCs and different ozone-depleting chemical substances was phased out as a part of the 1987 Montreal Protocol, a world treaty.

Whereas Mr. Brodeur was extensively hailed for his reporting on asbestos and the ozone layer, some scientists stated he was unnecessarily alarmist, even conspiratorial, in elevating concern about potential well being results brought on by energy strains, cellphones and different family units.

Mr. Brodeur printed a pair of controversial 1976 articles about attainable dangers surrounding the usage of microwave radiation, and went on to counsel that microwave ovens, tv transmitters and CB radios might emit probably deadly quantities of radiation. He later pointed to a research that discovered a attainable affiliation between childhood most cancers and proximity to energy strains. Researchers haven’t established that hyperlink, though Mr. Brodeur continued to focus on attainable well being hazards over time, noting {that a} physique of the World Well being Group classified the electromagnetic fields from cellphones as “probably carcinogenic.”

As he instructed it, his work was united by an try to penetrate a veil of official secrecy that permeated authorities and trade throughout the a long time of the Chilly Battle. His fascination with secrecy stemmed partially from a discovery he made as a school senior, when he discovered from a chaperone at a faculty dance that he had an older half brother from his father’s earlier marriage, by no means spoken of by his mother and father, who shared Mr. Brodeur’s first and center names, solely in reverse.

At instances, Mr. Brodeur wrote in a 1997 memoir, “Secrets and techniques,” he considered himself “as a type of literary entomologist — one who overturns rocks within the dank backyard of the non-public enterprise system … and describes what he sees crawling out from beneath.” However actually, he continued, his skilled id was extra simple: He was “merely a author who labored for {a magazine} throughout a time by which its editors believed that public well being points must be written about at size and in depth.”

Paul Adrian Brodeur Jr. was born in Boston on Could 16, 1931, and grew up in close by Arlington, Mass. His father was an orthodontist and sculptor, and his mom was a trainer.

Mr. Brodeur graduated in 1949 from non-public Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., and acquired a bachelor’s diploma in 1953 from Harvard College. After serving in West Germany with the Military Counter Intelligence Corps, he spent a 12 months in Paris, the place he wrote his first piece for the New Yorker, an acid-dipped brief story referred to as “The Sick Fox,” impressed by his experiences with navy paperwork.

The story ran in 1957, when he was 26. The subsequent 12 months, he joined the journal’s employees, initially writing brief Speak of the City and Remark items whereas contributing occasional brief tales. He tailored “The Sick Fox” right into a 1962 novel of the identical title, and in 1970 printed “The Stunt Man,” a fatalistic novel about an Military deserter who finds refuge as a film stunt man. The e book was tailored into an Oscar-nominated 1980 movie starring Peter O’Toole.

Whereas Mr. Brodeur remained dedicated to investigative reporting, he turned to fiction in moments of tragedy, together with after his 2-year-old son, Alan, died in 1965 after choking on a bit of meals. The subsequent 12 months, the New Yorker printed Mr. Brodeur’s story “Hydrography,” by which he wrote of a pair who unfold their late son’s ashes in a rustic stream, simply as Mr. Brodeur and his spouse, the previous Malabar Schleiter, did within the brook behind their Connecticut cottage.

The story, included in Mr. Brodeur’s 1972 assortment, “Downstream,” described how the boy’s father would lie awake at evening, picturing a map of Connecticut whereas imagining the creek’s descent throughout the land:

“Trickles grew to become brooks, brooks grew to become streams, streams widened into rivers. The rivers flowed into the ocean. His mind was awash with currents that coursed by the wrinkled contours of huge watersheds. Entire continents drained by his head. All the pieces emptied into the ocean. The ocean was empty. He started once more.”

Mr. Brodeur married Schleiter, a journalist and cookbook writer, in 1960. That they had three youngsters: Alan, Stephen and Adrienne. The wedding led to divorce, as did Mr. Brodeur’s second marriage to Margaret Staats. Within the early Nineties, he married Milane Christiansen, who ran a bookstore close to San Diego. They have been nonetheless married, however separated, when she died in 2013.

Along with his youngsters Stephen and Adrienne, survivors embody a sister and three grandchildren.

Mr. Brodeur retired within the mid-Nineties, after Tina Brown took over as editor of the New Yorker. He spent a lot of his time on the northern tip of Cape Cod, the place he constructed a modernist, art-filled dwelling and searched the waters for bluefish and striper.

“He was by no means happier than when he was fishing,” his daughter stated in a telephone interview. Mr. Brodeur, she added, was virtually self-sustaining throughout the summer season months, eating on fish, clams and the occasional lobster, together with produce from his backyard.

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