Asbestos and The Deadly Hug

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I never in a million years dreamed that I would be diagnosed with a terminal and rare cancer called mesothelioma at age 36, let alone one that was a result of an environmental toxin 30 years prior. My mesothelioma was caused by asbestos exposure in my childhood. My dad worked in the construction business, and much of what he did when he was learning the ropes was the side work. The heavy stuff was left to the guys with experience and the menial jobs, like mixing drywall mud, sanding and cleanup were left to the guys who were new. My dad happened to be one of them.

Not only did he do those tasks, he also had to do demolition, often in buildings where asbestos was present in the insulation around pipes. My dad would come home from work, his clothes often covered in greyish, white dust that contained millions of the deadly asbestos fibers. I remember as a child, I would wear his crusty work jacket to do my chores, like feed my rabbits, rake the leaves, or I would even throw it on to go get the mail. His jacket hung on the doorknob in our entry way so it was easy to grab and put on. Besides, I didn’t want to get my own coat dirty, so why not wear my dad’s that already was?

The Deadly Hug

In the mesothelioma community, we refer to secondhand asbestos exposure as a deadly hug. Who would have thought that simply going to work every day to provide for our family, to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table, would leave me fighting for my life in my 30s? Sadly, I’m not that unique. Almost every mesothelioma patient under the age of 55 are victims of secondhand asbestos exposure. We didn’t work in an industry that used it, but our fathers did. Many women over the age of 55 who have been diagnosed were also exposed to asbestos by doing the laundry of her husband’s contaminated clothing.

Who is at Risk?

Wait a minute, isn’t asbestos banned? I have people ask me that all the time. The answer is a big NO. Back in the late 1980’s a ban was passed, but overturned in 1991. Asbestos is not used in firefighterthe capacity it once was, but is still a hazard. Most of the jobs where exposure happened and continues to happen are either in construction or demolition. Firefighters remain one of the most at risk jobs there is. Shipyard workers, automobile workers, miners, men and women in the armed forces, especially the Navy, were at high risk of exposure as well.

A Toxic Cloud of Asbestos

It makes my blood boil to know that as one of the world’s leading industrialized countries, we have not banned asbestos, knowing full well the dangers it poses. The third wave of exposure is happening now. September 11, 2001 is a day we as Americans will never forget. The day the Twin Towers came crashing down, a toxic cloud of asbestos and other cancer-causing chemicals rained down on Manhattan too. Thousands of first responders rushed to rescue people and are paying for their bravery with their lives. Many have already died from various cancers, including mesothelioma.

The new hosts of DIY shows on HGTV and DIY network are spurring a home renovation boom across the country. People go into a home built before 1980, not realizing that asbestos is probably present in the tile, the siding or the insulation in the attic, and tear into these homes, not even aware of what is hiding there. Asbestos regulations don’t hold people responsible, and most people shrug the dangers off thinking that it won’t happen to them. All I can say is you can never be too careful.

Heather, Cameron and daughter

Photo Credit: Heather Von St. James

Just recently, asbestos was discovered in a makeup highlight powder sold by the store Justice that is geared toward teens and tweens! Yes, a highlight powder contaminated with asbestos being

sold to young children. As a mother of a daughter who shops there and a mesothelioma patient, I was beyond angry at the carelessness of our country to not have stricter regulations on products! This makeup was made in China and contained talc that was contaminated with asbestos. This is inexcusable, but sadly just another instance of negligence. In recent years, asbestos has been found in a kids’ crime scene fingerprinting kit and crayons sold at dollar stores across the country.

No Safe Levels of Asbestos Exposure

You see, people who work with it aren’t the only ones at risk anymore. There is no safe level of asbestos exposure and until a ban is in place and more strict regulations are upheld, innocent people will die. Little girls discovering glittery highlight makeup should not pay with their lives for wanting to look pretty, like I almost did for wearing my dad’s work jacket to feed my rabbits.

A lawyer friend of mine said, in his opinion, there is no more innocent victim than an asbestos victim. No one knowingly exposes themselves to it, and until they get sick 30 years later, knew what harm it does. This is why education, communication and awareness are so important. Lives are at risk if the truth isn’t told.

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Cancer Road Trip with Pat Wetzel

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