The US Surgeon General has declared April 1-7th as Asbestos Global Awareness week. It is certainly a worthwhile effort seeing as, according to the World Health Organization, 125 million people in the world are exposed to asbestos at the workplace and more than 107,000 people die each year from asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis resulting from occupational exposure.
Asbestos is a carcinogen and there is no safe level of exposure. There is consensus from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, World Health Organization, International Labor Organization, and International Agency for Research on Cancer that asbestos exposure must be avoided.
You would think the above facts would lead the United States to ban asbestos. But you would be wrong.
Shockingly, although asbestos has been known to cause disease since 1906, the U.S. imported 1,160 tons last year to “meet manufacturing needs.” An estimated 35 million buildings across the nation contain asbestos-contaminated materials. Several U.S. financial institutions and mutual funds currently hold shares in foreign asbestos mining and manufacturing companies. Fifty-five countries have banned asbestos, but the U.S. is not one of them.
For the past 15 years, I have represented individuals who suffer disability and death due to work place exposure to asbestos. The impact on these people and their loved ones is startlingly devastating as, often, the diagnosis comes with no cure and near-certain death. Many of these workers in Maine had exposure in shipyard construction and paper mill manufacturing. They are our neighbors, friends and family members. It is heartbreaking to see so many people suffer due to an entirely preventable situation.
It is time for business owners to step forward and protect their workers from asbestos. It is time for our financial institutions to stop making money off a product that kills so many people. It is time for the United States to protect US workers and citizens and ban the continued importation of asbestos.
This week of awareness, let us all spread the word that there is only one place for asbestos and asbestos-related diseases – and that place is our history books.
About the author: Suzanne Johnson is an attorney and partner at the workers’ rights law firm, McTeague Higbee. She focuses much of her practice on protecting workers suffering from asbestos-related diseases. She can be reached at 207-725-5581.