Hazardous Aid: The Growth of the Asbestos Industry and Post–Korean War Reconstruction in South Korea

Lunchtime Lectures
Wednesday, February 19, 2020
12:00 p.m.–1:00 p.m.
Science History Institute
315 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
United States

Join us for a talk by Yeonsil Kang, visiting assistant professor of history, Drexel University.

How do hazardous industries move around the world? Hazardous industries, those that deal with toxic materials or significantly pollute the surrounding environment, have a history of relocating to so-called pollution havens. This talk traces the growth of the asbestos industry in South Korea between the 1940s and 1970s within the context of turbulent geopolitics. It highlights how global efforts during the post–Korean War reconstruction ultimately encouraged the growth of hazardous industries in Korea. Rehabilitation projects carried out by the United States and the United Nations aimed to, among many other outcomes, rebuild Korea’s industrial capacity in manufacturing. The projects supported small- to medium-sized factories producing paper, glass, textiles, and asbestos, all of which are now considered highly toxic industries. Focusing on the case of the asbestos industry, this talk illuminates the consequences of international developments as a conduit for the global spread of hazardous industries.


Yeonsil Kang

Yeonsil Kang

About the Speaker

Yeonsil Kang is a visiting assistant professor of history at Drexel University. She is interested in how nature, technology, and politics are intertwined, and how those links shape our understanding of the environment in East Asia. Her project, “Mineral Time, Bodily Time: Asbestos, Slow Disaster, and Toxic Politics in South Korea,” explores the history of asbestos, the built environment, and human exposure. It investigates how current politics surrounding asbestos exposure revolves around the question of time frames and how it is deeply rooted in the slow and invisible nature of the disaster.

Yeonsil received her PhD at the Graduate School of Science, Technology, and Policy at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) in Daejeon, South Korea. Before joining Drexel, she was a postdoctoral fellow at the Catholic University of Korea, with the support of the National Research Foundation of Korea, and taught at Hanyang University. At Drexel she continues her project on asbestos and teaches courses on the environmental history of East Asia and the history of disaster.

About the Series

Lunchtime Lectures are a series of (mostly) weekly, informal talks on the history of chemistry or related subjects, including the history and social studies of science, technology, and medicine. Based on original research (sometimes still in progress), these talks are given by local scholars for an audience of the Institute staff and fellows and interested members of the public.