Fake Silk The Lethal History of Viscose Rayon Paul David Blanc

Publication date:
03 Jan 2017
Yale University Press
328 pages: 235 x 156 x 29mm
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When a new technology makes people ill, how high does the body count have to be before protectives steps are taken?

This disturbing book tells a dark story of hazardous manufacturing, poisonous materials, environmental abuses, political machinations, and economics trumping safety concerns. It explores the century-long history of “fake silk,” or cellulose viscose, used to produce such products as rayon textiles and tires, cellophane, and everyday kitchen sponges. Paul Blanc uncovers the grim history of a product that crippled and even served a death sentence to many industry workers while also releasing toxic carbon disulfide into the environment.
Viscose, an innovative and lucrative product first introduced in the early twentieth century, quickly became a multinational corporate enterprise. Blanc investigates industry practices from the beginning through two highly profitable world wars, the midcentury export of hazardous manufacturing to developing countries, and the current “greenwashing” of viscose as an eco-friendly product. Deeply researched and boldly presented, this book brings to light an industrial hazard whose egregious history ranks with those of asbestos, lead, and mercury.

Paul David Blanc, M.D., is professor of medicine and holds the Endowed Chair in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, University of California, San Francisco. He is author of How Everyday Products Make People Sick and posts a “Household Hazards” blog for Psychology Today.

“The book is well researched and clearly written, with a passionate concern for the impact of carbon disulphide on workers. . . this book will be very appealing to scholars as well as to general readers interested in the history of the rayon industry, the history of occupational health, or the unbridled use of toxic materials by industry.”—Peter Morris, Ambix

"It is a fast paced and shocking tale. . . Rather than chart occupational health
through a specific industry Fake Silk focuses on the substance, which permits a much
broader and deeper reach into politics, economics, environmentalism and culture both in
terms of both historical research and its audience."—Social History of Medicine

“Action-packed . . . Reading Fake Silk, I could not help but wonder about the manufacturing process behind my T-shirt or the new dress hanging in my closet. Was someone harmed in the making of the kitchen sponge I just unwrapped?”—Science

“Thanks to Paul Blanc’s extensively researched study we learn that. . . As the industry expanded, so did the number of victims suffering from the manufacturing process through exposure to the toxic solvent. They, as workers in the critical step, had suffered hallucinations and muscle and nerve dysfunction, and even died, from the toxic solvent carbon disulphide (disulfide). Their story is told sympathetically in this highly readable volume.”
—Anthony S. Travis, Royal Society of Chemistry Historical Group Newsletter

“In a time when many occupational physicians in developed countries will not see much classical occupational
disease, this book is a timely reminder of the risks resulting from poorly controlled workplace exposures. Read
it as a warning to understand the background to what happened in the viscose rayon industry and to quicken
consciences for future prevention.”—Ron McCaig, Journal of Occupational Medicine

“Interesting and engaging” —Catherine Mills, The Review of English Studies

"This book provides a much needed dimension often missing in histories of rayon-producing corporations. . . .many readers will appreciate the assembling of facts concerning carbon disulfide's use."— Mary Schoeser, Textile History

"Paul Blanc's book compellingly chronicles the all-too-real dangers behind the production of ‘fake’ silk. A terrifying exposé of what happens when the textile business puts profits before health."—Alison Matthews David, author of Fashion Victims:The Dangers of Dress Past and Present

“This is an essential read for all interested in the history of occupational disease and of our increasing knowledge, yet failure to implement, the controls needed to reduce the risk of preventable disease and premature death.”—Sir Anthony Newman Taylor, Imperial College, London

“Blanc's meticulous research has yielded a calm and overwhelming indictment of the murderous treatment that rayon workers worldwide have endured at the hands of their corporate masters.”—Eric Frumin, Health and Safety Director, US trade union federation Change to Win

“A shocking story. Blanc draws back the curtain on the corporate deceit and neglect connected to products that have come to epitomize modern life.”— Frederick Rowe Davis, author of Banned: A History of Pesticides and the Science of Toxicology

“A fascinating investigation into the colorful century-long history of a pernicious industrial hazard. A cautionary must-read for anyone who cares about eco-friendly living and integrity too.”—Don Katz, founder, Audible.com