The 12th Annual Asbestos Awareness and Prevention Conference, once again, underscored the civil injustices committed against countless workers and families exposed to asbestos. Simmons Hanly Conroy was honored to participate as a platinum sponsor of the event, which took place in Washington, D.C., this past weekend. The entire conference is available to view on livestream here.
Firm COO Todd Adamitis accepted our sponsorship award during the Saturday night awards banquet. The firm’s role of protecting the legal rights of asbestos victims is only one piece to understanding this complex issue. There are the researchers, the physicians, occupational experts and the people who matter most: the patients and families whose lives have been devastated by an asbestos-related disease. Events like the ADAO conference bring everyone together in the fight against the man-made tragedy of asbestos.
Below are some take-a-ways from this year’s conference that outline how all of these important pieces fit together and why we continue to fight.
Asbestos use continues.
“It’s absurd that the world still uses asbestos with the history going back to the 1930s showing the danger,” said Dr. Arthur Frank during his presentation, “Asbestos Absurdities: Continuing Use.” Dr. Frank is a professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the Drexel University School of Public Health.
The first detailed case of an asbestos-related death was recorded by the medical community in 1924. Her name was Nellie Kershaw. She worked in a factory that made asbestos cloth from age 13 until she became sick at 26. She continued to work off and on until she was completely disabled at 31. She died two years later of asbestosis.
Nearly 100 years later, in 2016, the United States still exports asbestos. This past summer, asbestos was found in crayons made in China. During the conference, Tony Rich, an occupational hygienist, announced he’d uncovered a new product that contains 30 percent chrysotile asbestos.
Countless people are still being exposed today to this human carcinogen.
Asbestos turns your lungs to concrete.
Asbestos fibers damage the body over decades. The damage moves so slow it is difficult for doctors to diagnose an asbestos-related disease like mesothelioma until its final stages. Anywhere from 10 to 50 years can pass from the time of exposure to diagnosis. By then, it is often too late.
“It’s like someone poured concrete in the lung,” described Dr. Raja Flores, chairman of the Department of Thoracic Surgery at Mt. Sinai Health System.
During his presentation, “Surgical Advancements and Challenges to Treating Mesothelioma,” he displayed graphic imagery of removing mesothelioma tumors from the lining of the lungs and around the diaphragm.
“You can’t get it all out,” he said.
Asbestos fibers most often damage the lining of the lungs. However, asbestos-related diseases also occur in the lining of the stomach, heart and testes.
No safe level of exposure.
“Asbestos is big enough that it can be trapped (by the body’s defense system), but it’s small enough that it can’t be expelled,” said Dr. Keith Cengel, associate professor and director of the Photodynamic Therapy Program in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Pennsylvania.
A study called “The effects of the inhalation of asbestos in rats” found that lab rats exposed to asbestos for one work day experienced an increased risk of malignant cell growth. The British Journal of Cancer published the results in 1974. Additional research since then has gone on to show that exposure as short as a few days has caused mesothelioma in humans.
America needs a ban.
“We have no ban. (Asbestos) is coming into the United States and our children are being exposed. Our workers are being exposed. Our families are being exposed. The U.S. Surgeon General agrees. There is no safe level of exposure,” said ADAO President/CEO Linda Reinstein during her presentation, “Asbestos: The Perfect Storm.”
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, from 2000-2015, the United States imported 55,881 metric tons of asbestos.
Worldwide, 55 countries have banned asbestos. Yet, in the United States, asbestos remains legal and lethal.
Families need justice.
“This is a civil justice issue. We need to move forward in not only science, but also in that individuals are able to be fairly compensated for their injuries and able to hold the companies who caused their injuries accountable,” said Dr. Celeste Monforton during her opening remarks at this year’s conference. She is a professor in the Dept. of Environmental & Occupational Health at the Milken Institute School of Public Health, George Washington University.
Every year, 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare and fatal cancer caused by asbestos. Many were exposed to asbestos through their workplaces as a result of corporations who knew the dangers, but used the products anyway.
“…if you have enjoyed a good life while working with asbestos products, why not die from it.” That is what an executive wrote in a 1966 Bendix Corporation letter. [See letter.]
In 1968, the New Yorker published a whistle-blower article detailing the health hazards associated with exposure to asbestos by staff writer Paul Brodeur. Brodeur delivered this year’s ADAO keynote address. His work was the first mainstream press coverage of the asbestos corporate cover up.
When the asbestos companies were confronted with their continuing use of asbestos, despite the dangers, by the medical and legal fields through Brodeur’s work, they did not change. Instead, the opposite happened.
“The industry closed ranks and went on to fight tooth and nail with their insurance companies. Then when they were trapped, they filed for bankruptcy,” Brodeur said during his keynote speech. “It will happen again. This is corporate America.”
Brodeur ended his speech with the same concluding thought from his first 1968 article, “The Magic Mineral.”
“We use statistics to gain distance from tragedies,” he said. “In the end, the more important thing to remember is that statistics are human beings with the tears wiped off.”
This year, 107,000 people worldwide will die from asbestos exposure, according to the World Health Organization.
Too many tears.
Simmons Hanly Conroy is dedicated to helping people and their families who have been hurt by mesothelioma and asbestos-related diseases. As part of that mission, we are honored to help ADAO in its important work of making sure there are no more tears in the public health disaster of asbestos.