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This week marks the eight annual National Asbestos Awareness Week. And for that we are grateful.
Just last month Montana’s senior U.S. Senator, Max Baucus, announced the United States Senate passage of the resolution designating the first week of April 2012 as “Asbestos Awareness Week.” This is the sixth year in a row Baucus has introduced the resolution and he certainly has every reason to keep doing it. Representing the hard hit state of Montana, Baucus saw firsthand the destructive power of asbestos: the Montana town of Libby was virtually obliterated by the incredibly irresponsible actions of a W.R. Grace vermiculite plant that took the lives of 300 people and caused untold suffering.
But, despite eight years of resolutions, asbestos largely remains “that thing that happened a long time ago.” And in the din of clamor for health and safety recognition, asbestos barely makes the list.
Although asbestos is responsible for 10,000 deaths a year in the United States alone, mesothelioma, the signature cancer associated with asbestos exposure, is hardly a household word. Just think about it. Have you seen an article on the latest mesothelioma treatment in your recent health magazine? Has your doctor talked to you about asbestos exposure? We didn’t think so. And yet asbestos-related diseases are responsible for more deaths a year than melanoma, the dreaded skin cancer that gets a great deal of media attention.
Perhaps it is “out of sight, out of mind” that keeps asbestos off our radars. It is true that the microscopic asbestos fibers are invisible to the naked eye. But what’s keeping us, decade after decade, from ignoring the undeniable scientific fact that asbestos kills? What’s more, what keeps the United States from joining over 50 other counties that have already banned the import and use of asbestos?
We think we all know the answer and it is not a new one. There is money to be made from the import and manufacturing of asbestos products. Couple that with the long latency period of the diseases associated with asbestos and you get the perfect “guilt free” storm: the folks knowingly exposing workers to asbestos today probably won’t have to face the workers 30 years later when the tiny fibers have caused deadly diseases.
That’s why it is crucial for those of us who understand the risks to join the chorus of Baucus and asbestos advocacy groups like the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO). We may be the only shot at protection that today’s asbestos workers have.
“Asbestos Awareness Week is a rallying cry to keep the tragedy of Libby from happening again. It’s also an opportunity to remind people that much more work lies ahead to help victims of asbestos-related diseases,” said Baucus, who was instrumental in urging the EPA to declare its first ever public health emergency in Libby, Montana. “Although we can never fully right the outrageous wrong that took place in Libby, we can fight to make sure the community has the tools it needs to heal. And, we can keep working hard to make sure the public is aware of the tragic impact of asbestos exposure.”
For his ongoing efforts on behalf of residents of Libby, Lincoln County and asbestos-victims everywhere, Baucus was presented with the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization’s “Tribute of Hope Award” last year. Senator Tester also sponsored the bipartisan resolution.