Annual U.S. Asbestos Conference
Representatives from North America and Europe convened in Pennsylvania for the annual conference of the Asbestos Diseases Awareness Organization (ADAO).1 Asbestos victims, family members, trade unionists, campaigners and medical professionals attended a series of meetings in downtown Philadelphia on March 30, 31 & April 1, 2007 to mark National Asbestos Awareness Week. Hours before the conference commenced, the 110th Congress adopted Resolution 108 according to which the Senate urged:
the Surgeon General, as a public health issue, to warn and educate people that asbestos exposure may be hazardous to their health; and respectfully requests the Secretary of the Senate to transit a copy of this resolution to the Surgeon general.2
Although this is the 3rd asbestos resolution adopted by the Senate there are significant differences in this year's text which demonstrate a growing awareness of the country's tragic asbestos legacy: the time period has been extended from a day to a week and the Senate has, for the first time, requested that the Surgeon General acts to warn and educate citizens of the asbestos hazard. While Pat Martin, a Member of the Canadian Parliament, participated in the conference, none of the elected representatives from Pennsylvania attended. Considering that this State is one of the country's five worst affected by asbestos-related disease, this oversight is either a colossal political miscalculation or a shocking slight on so many state residents whose lives have been touched by the asbestos tragedy.
Opening the March 31 conference, ADAO Cofounder and mesothelioma widow, Mrs. Linda Reinstein, commented that the day's agenda included presentations from speakers who collectively had amassed 400 years of expertise on asbestos issues.3 Despite all we have experienced, both personally and nationally, she said asbestos has still not been banned in the U.S. Expressing her support for Senator Patty Murray's Ban Asbestos in America Act, Ms. Reinstein added:
Currently more than 30 million homes, schools and public buildings are contaminated with asbestos. Anyone working in these types of environments face a risk of inhaling toxic fibers which can cause permanent, irreversible damage to the tissue and organs We need to raise public awareness of the on-going risk posed by these contaminated products and make sure that everything possible is done to purge the asbestos risk as soon as possible. We also need to support those citizens whose health has been compromised and ensure they receive the recognition and treatment they need.
The effects of continuing inaction on asbestos were graphically illustrated by John Thayer, the supervisor of the Capitol Hill power plant tunnel workers, who displayed a series of dramatic photographs of appalling working conditions that persist in the utility tunnels under Congress, the Supreme Court and other federal buildings. In one photograph, John had written his name in the asbestos dust deposited on the surface of a large pipe; in another, broken chunks of asbestos-containing material were strewn over the tunnel floors. Despite the fact that the Architect of the Capitol had been informed of the dangerous conditions more than nine years ago and had been officially cited for multiple violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act by the Office of Compliance, little has been done to improve the dangerously dilapidated structures and eliminate the risk of airborne contaminants. Mr. Thayer's medical chart, which was not shown to him by the Office of Attending Physicians until last year, documented his lung age as that of a 118 year old man; at the time that diagnosis was made, he was just 33 years old.4
The inclusion on the agenda of speakers from Libby, Montana revealed how that devastated community is coping on an individual and community level with the fallout from years of asbestos pollution. Dr. Brad Black, Medical Director of Libby's Center for Asbestos-Related Disease (CARD), spoke of the courageous fight of Franklin 'Mick' Mills, who sadly died in 2005 from asbestos-related disease contracted from environmental exposure. Mick was well-known to the CARD board, staff, and the community at large. He was instrumental in developing the volunteer ambulance service and always played a prominent part in community activities including the creation of CARD. Some of the marbles Mick presented to the CARD staff were shared with conference delegates along with Mick's warning to keep your focus on what is truly important. Mick knew that many obstacles would be encountered and hoped that the marbles would always remind us to be true to our cause and keep our eye on our goal. Speaking about the Federal Government's attempts to clean up Libby andother asbestos contaminated sites, Dr. Aubrey K. Miller, from the Environmental Protection Agency, discussed the difficulty in assessingthe risks of asbestos contaminated soils. He noted that EPA testing atsites around the nation have shown that activities even as innocent as achild digging in the soil can produce potentially hazardous airborneexposures, even in soils with very low levels of contamination (below1%).
The World Health Organization's (WHO) call for a global ban on asbestos was part of the presentation made by Dr Peter Orris from the School of Public Health, the University of Illinois who was speaking in Philadelphia on behalf of the WHO, the body tasked with protecting global health. Dr. Orris stressed the need for coordinated action to prevent the transfer of discredited and hazardous asbestos technology from the developed to the developing world. Proposals by the WHO to eliminate the asbestos scourge will be debated at the May 2007 meeting of the World Health Assembly in Geneva.
To bring the ADAO's program to its conclusion, an ecumenical service was held on April 1 to remember those lost to asbestos and those still suffering. Sari Sairanen, the Health and Safety Coordinator of the Canadian Auto Workers Union (CAW), spoke of a truth long denied by the Canadian Government: asbestos is killing Canadian workers. The CAW, which has long espoused a national and global ban policy, has recently begun a project in the asbestos-effected community of Marystown, Newfoundland where thousands of local people had received hazardous exposures during their employment at the shipyards. Ms. Sairanen recalled a recent telephone call from Jason, the son of a shipyard joiner who had died suddenly of an unacknowledged disease; the family suspected it was asbestos-related. When Jason's Mother heard of the CAW's Marystown initiative, she did not sleep for three days so eager was she to finally confirm the cause of her husband's death.
Little more than 3 years ago, the ADAO was formed by a handful of individuals determined to represent the unnamed and unseen individuals who were behind the grim asbestos statistics. From a 2 hour press conference in Washington D.C. in 2005, to a one-day conference in New York City in 2006 to 3 days of events in Philadelphia in 2007, the ADAO memorial to the on-going asbestos epidemic has truly become a national institution. Laurie Kazan-Allen, the Coordinator of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat, said:
It is inspirational that so much has been achieved in such a short time by the ADAO. The fact that a staff of volunteers spread over dozens of states has succeeded in bringing together so many people concerned with the fallout from the U.S. asbestos experience for three consecutive years is testament to the dedication and commitment of the ADAO community. Nobody is forgotten or ignored by this grass-roots pro-active organization. After so much talk of financial losses and corporations injured by asbestos, there is finally a voice that speaks for those individuals who have lost everything to the killer dust.
|ADAO Conference Speakers|
The conference will be broadcast via the web for one year; details of this facility will be on the ADAO website shortly.
April 11, 2007