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asbestos fibers                                                                                                                                                             Magnesium aluminum silicates by any other name will kill you just as dead.                                  

Who I Am                                                                                                      

My name is Bill Schwan. I was born in 1960 (I don't want to have to update this part of the page every time I have a birthday, so feel free to do the math). I've worked in the construction trades forever and therefor have a personal interest in this topic. But my own health is not the main motivator in this case, as it is not an issue at present. I was planning on dedicating this web page to those Fortune 500 companies who, for better than 100 years, have been willingly exposing people to a known carcinogen and then have had the chutzpah to manipulate bankruptcy laws to their advantage when they were finally held accountable for the suffering they caused. I decided such people are beneath my contempt (and believe me, my contempt will stoop to just about anything) and will instead dedicate this project to the growing numbers of people with asbestos related diseases who may never have any hope of justice in their individual cases should the "no fault" nature of Senate bill 1125 kick in as it very well may in the near future. This includes people who live near places where asbestos ore is processed, who live in the same house as anyone who works with asbestos and might bring it home on their clothing, or anyone living down wind of where the World Trade Center used to stand. And one special person who did nothing more than the laundry.............................

Why I Am Bothering      Mom's picture Millie- 1938-1999

I'm making this effort mainly because I feel that 61 is too young an age at which to die. The death in question would be that of my mother, Millie Schwan. When Mom was a young girl, part of her responsibilities around the house involved doing the laundry. When Mom was born, there was a field on the birth certificate for the father’s occupation. On Mom’s birth certificate, that field reads “Asbestos Worker”. In the course of shaking the dust off his work clothes in preparation for the wash, she managed to inhale enough asbestos to set her lungs up for a losing battle with mesothelioma fifty years later. The ads on the radio that advertise lawyers who specialize in asbestos litigation refer to mesothelioma as a rare form of lung cancer. As the people exposed to asbestos reach the end of the fifty year incubation period, expect it to become a much more common form of cancer. Trust me, when it affects someone close to you, it ceases to be a rare thing.

All summer long in 1999, Mom made repeated remarks that she was having a difficult time catching her breath, even when she was completely sedentary. The symptoms said bronchitis and she was treated accordingly until the persistence of the ‘bronchitis’ prompted the doctor to order an X-ray. Funny the way one picture can change so many things. We learned in rapid succession that a large percentage of her lungs were involved in a massive tumor, that the tumor was growing rapidly, and that it had been caused by exposure to asbestos.

At that point in time, I had heard enough about asbestos in my own work in the construction trades to know that Mom had just been handed a death sentence. Though the connection between asbestos and lung disease has been documented since ancient Rome (Asbestosis was known as “the disease of slaves” because no Roman would let anyone but a slave work with the mineral. And Johns-Manville had the gall to say “But we didn't knoooow! Nobody toooold us!”), it is only recently that effective treatments have been approved by the FDA. This is not an orphan drug issue or anything like that. It was just accepted that if you get this ‘rare’ form of lung cancer, you are going to die.

For the next three months, we watched the rapid progression of Mom’s downhill slide. Because a part of the tumor was pressing on nerves and thereby caused her a good deal of pain, she took many trips to Universities Hospital in Cleveland where radiation was used to try and shrink the tumor around the specific nerves. During one of these trips, I encountered one of the most bittersweet moments of my life. As we waited for the technicians to call her back for a dose of radiation, I brought out an old book I had purchased on Ebay shortly before we learned of Mom’s situation. It was one of the first books I remembered her reading to me and Mom did recall the book. Unfortunately, she was unable to read the book aloud owing to shortness of breath. I had this goofy notion of reinforcing a childhood memory by having Mom read the story to me one last time. So instead of reliving an old memory, I made a new one and returned the favor by reading it to her.

Two weeks before Christmas, Mom surrendered to the inevitable. The really sad part about this is that this kind of death need not be inevitable. The principle parties who allowed such exposure to occur knew for a long time about the risks asbestos posed to people who worked with it, yet they chose not to inform the workers, allowing them to bring an insidious carcinogen home to share with their families. The dust involved in the processing was always referred to as “nuisance dust”, and a nuisance doesn’t kill you, it merely annoys, right?

It is because of this attitude of depraved indifference on the part of asbestos manufacturers that asbestos litigation is in its heyday. Actually, the heyday seems to have passed since companies have discovered that they can declare bankruptcy and be protected from litigation and then pay pennies on the dollar when the ruling finally comes down years after the person who brought the suit has died. Then too, Congress is working toward some final, binding resolution that is supposed to placate all parties. My opinion regarding this solution can be easily discerned by the title of the next section.

I know that I have been exposed to asbestos numerous times in connection with the way I earn a living, such as fixing water lines that are insulated with an asbestos based insulation, cutting into water mains that are made of asbestos (yes, some of the water you drink may pass through a conduit made of the mineral)and dumping Zonolite insulation into concrete block walls, but this doesn't concern me as much as the fact that the superintendant of our local school system sends home a disclaimer at the beginning of each school year blithely informing parents of the presence of asbestos in the schools. He always takes great pains to emphasize the fact that the asbestos present in the schools is of the 'non friable' type, meaning that it doesn't easily fragment if left undisturbed. He fails to take into account the ingenuity of high school students who would routinely carve their initials into the powdery white sound deadening insulation in the band room. My initials could be found above the radiator and below the window of the room in which they stored the instruments. And just how do those machines used to buff polish and strip wax on the floors effect the friability of the asbestos in the floor tiles? I'm afraid that our schools are trusting the word of an industry that has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is not to be trusted when it comes to the safety of the product they peddle.

I guess one of the better reasons for this exercise is to prevent the exposure of my grandchildren to this unnecessary danger. My son has been exposed to some degree and I can't see any reason for another generation to be affected, hence the title of the page.

You know, if I was to stand on or above the step on a step ladder that says "Do Not Stand On Or Above This Step" and someone from OSHA happened to see me do it, they would not be above slapping my employer with a fine so large that they could, depending on the fiscal condition of the company at that moment, cause the company to go bankrupt. Their rationale for this is it is better to put the unsafe companies out of business so as to not place workers into unsafe working conditions. What has happened to this line of reasoning where people like Johns-Manville or W.R. Grace are concerned? Legislators are so intent upon protecting these companies from the logical consequences of their own actions that justice is effectively circumvented. If they have played fast an loose with human lives as I think the number of cases of mesothelioma reported every year gives evidence, then they deserve to go bankrupt in earnest and not in some great "save our corporate assets and still turn a profit" charade.

Cause To Be Frustrated

Orrin Hatch he wrote a bill
For the people who got ill
From lots of asbestos dust
(I'd best not say, it's libelous)*

(* With apologies to whoever came up with that catchy little ditty about Lizzy Borden)

A poet laureate I am not, but this sums up my feelings about the ‘‘Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act of 2003’’, Senate Bill 1125, authored by Senator Hatch and co-sponsored by one of my own senators, Senator George Voinovich. I resent being made to feel guilty for being a Republican, senators. Please note the Orwellian use of doublespeak in the acronym form of the bill: F.A.I.R. Act of 2003.

To whom does this bill purport to be fair? I encourage you to read the text of this bill by following this link. I want you to look at this bill for yourself and decide who benefits most. s.1125

At the outset, I have a hard time believing that this bill can do what it hopes to do. But that is assuming that this bill was designed with the welfare of the victims of asbestos related disease at heart. There is the possibility that I may be wrong in this assumption. In a nutshell, all the asbestos defendants, companies who produced, sold, or in some other way disseminated magnesium aluminum silicates (read your labels. Spackle doesn’t call it asbestos anymore, but they do recommend you wet sand so as not to release the dust into breathable air. I feel sooooooooo much better, thank you!), dump e gads money into a fund intended to settle all claims. This fund will be administered by some entity called the Asbestos Court. Pending litigation is declared null and void and dying citizens begin again from square one. So the folks who want to give their death some meaning by seeing a little justice meted out are going to be told that their efforts were pointless after all. The folks who put them in their present situation don’t even have to so much as admit responsibility because they contributed to a fund that is to be managed by a well-meaning bureaucracy to which the term “no-fault” is near and dear. In trying to come up with a working analogy, I think of the Social Security Administration. Well meaning in its intent, under funded in the long run, and when it comes my turn to receive my hard-earned pension, I will have to live to be 100 to see the fruits of my labors. For some reason, I just can’t picture this solution to the asbestos problem playing out any better. And the language in the bill talks about “occupational exposure” time and time again but never mentions exposures that occur when doing the laundry. Asbestos makes no distinctions. It will lock itself into the alveoli of the lungs just as inextricably at home as at work. The way the bill is presently worded, the wives and children of persons who inadvertently brought their work home with them have no recourse should they develop asbestosis somewhere down the road.

A wonderful piece of legislation that speaks to the same subject  is being overlooked. A year prior to the introduction of Senate bill 1125, Senator Patty Murray of Washington  introduced Senate bill 2641 which had the ambitious title of  the Ban Asbestos in America Act of 2002. Elements of this bill found their way into the ("ahem!") FAIR Act of 2003. While it did not deal with the voluminous litigation concerns that s. 1125 does, it did deal with the root of the problem by banning the use of asbestos in the United States. The spirit of Senator Murray's bill has been watered down in s.1125 so as to be unrecognizable, but when you have to weigh the needs of corporations against the pain and suffering they caused voters, I suppose certain compromises must be made. The portion of s.1125 that deals with banning asbestos products is so full of "exceptions" that the point of instituting a ban at all  is almost comical. But then, that's just my opinion. And I feel justified in voicing it because one of the exceptions I work with on a semi regular basis. Gaskets made of asbestos are among the exceptions, and I know enough to remove such a gasket with care. However, the conventional wisdom when taking an old gasket off a flange you intend to reuse says, "carefully take a 3500 rpm grinder equipped with a wire wheel to the gasket, reducing it to umptillion pieces of a gasket ." Given the virtual weightlessness of individual asbestos fibers, the gasket could float around for days waiting to be inhaled, and as few as a single fiber is enough to kill you sometime in the next half century.

Why The Lack Of Interest?

There is something in all of this that just puzzles the heck out of me.  Steve McQueen died of mesothelioma brought on by working at a job that had him disassembling old, asbestos laden ships from World War II. Who knew? I had assumed he smoked too much. When Michael Landon came on the Tonight Show to talk frankly about his pancreatic cancer, there was a lot of sympathy generated for that particular cancer. Michael J. Fox's struggle with Parkinson's Disease gave that nerve disorder quite a bit of press.  When Congressman Bruce Vento died of mesothelioma, it hardly made a ripple. It seems that whenever mesothelioma is mentioned, it is instantly associated with "blood sucking lawyers trying to milk the cash cow for all it's worth." That hardly seems like fair (there's that word again) treatment.  Is there some underlying reason that we just don't talk about this cancer, and when we do, it is just to deride the agents who represent its victims? Maybe the families of mesothelioma victims are more interested in seeing someone held responsible for a death that never should have happened than to be compensated for their loss, anyway. Perhaps I just see conspiracy theories because my family was cheated out of a member. Or maybe it's just that the lobbyists' money talks louder than I can. 

While we are on the subject of celebrated persons, I'd like to mention Warren Zevon who died of mesothelioma in 2003. When NPR did their tribute on All Things Considered, they called it lung cancer. Warren himself gave us a clue to his fate in  the factory  .  In his final, and some say magnum, opus, The Wind, you can really tell how Warren is being affected by the tumors.  Makes the entire CD much more charged with meaning. His cover of Dylan's "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" and "Keep Me In Your Heart" are bound to put a lump in your throat when you understand the circumstances under which they were recorded.

Maybe this lack of willingness to acknowledge the cause and effect relationship between asbestos and mesothelioma other than in hushed tones has to do with the way death presents itself  with mesothelioma. Having watched it one too many times (and one time is too many), it is not a mode of death anyone would choose if given the option.  I would have to imagine it as being comparable to crucifixion minus the nails. It is a long, drawn out form of suffocation, like a crucifixion, and I'd have to assume that the human body reacts similarly in both cases. But the psychological suffering would in many ways trump the physical and add to the despair of the situation.  Say you acquired the disease because you ran up to your Dad when he came home from work and hugged him through the dust on his clothing. Fifty years later, the loving parent image blends with the image of a parent that, however inadvertent it might have been and how long dead the parent in question is, caused the situation the afflicted finds himself in. That can't rest well under such circumstances.

The folks at give a well rounded presentation of the facts. If you feel so moved (and I highly recommend the site), follow this link -

Reasons To Be Concerned

Because there is potential for this subject matter to take up a lot of space, I put this stuff on a different page.  It will basically be a presentation of some products that you might find in your house that have some connection to asbestos. I'm not saying that all of them will present a life threatening hazard, but all are a cause for concern.

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