WHEN ONE TOWN WAS GETTING SICK, THIS WOMAN SPOKE OUT

Our episode about courage features the incredible story of Gayla Benefield. Listen to TED favorite Margaret Heffernan tell it here: http://n.pr/1wZJ93D. Full episode here: http://n.pr/1BB6dXl
  1. 1.
    In the late 1980s, Gayla Benefield had a job reading utility meters in the small town of Libby, Montana.
    She was one of those people who'd go house to house for the gas or the electric company.
  2. 2.
    Gayla did most of her work in the middle of the day. After a couple of months on the job, she started to notice lots of people were home in the middle of the day. And a lot of them had oxygen tanks.
    Many of them didn't seem old enough to need oxygen tanks.
  3. 3.
    It turns out, the town had a vermiculite mine in it.
    Vermiculite was used for soil conditioner, to insulate lofts. You could find it in playgrounds, football grounds, and skating rinks.
  4. 4.
    As Gayla started looking into this, she learned that vermiculite is a very toxic form of asbestos.
  5. 5.
    She made the connection that vermiculite was making this town sick -- but when she told people, nobody wanted to listen.
    Many thought if vermiculite was so harmful, they would already know about it.
  6. 6.
    But Gayla didn’t stop. She did more research, contacted experts.
    She finally got one researcher to look into the problem. He found Gayla was right.
  7. 7.
    Gayla was offered money from the company that owned the mine to keep quiet, but she refused.
  8. 8.
    She finally got a federal agency to come and screen the town. They found the mortality rate 80 times higher than anywhere in the United States.
  9. 9.
    A government cleanup was ordered. The company that owned the mine eventually went bankrupt. An asbestosis clinic was opened, and, to this day, new patients are being treated there.
  10. 10.
    Heffernan told us in our interview: “The choice to say something is risky and the choice of saying nothing is risky. And so I think courage is having the clarity to see the two bad choices. There is no safe path. But what you do know is, if you don't speak up, everything will stay the same.”