Mesothelioma Patient Stories:
He Didn't Even Work With Asbestos
Trenton, New Jersey has never had any plants that processed asbestos. Even workers who knew about the dangers of asbestos would not have hesitated from taking a relatively high paying job in the W.R. Grace vermiculite processing plant.
Exposure to asbestos is known to be the primary cause of serious lung diseases known as asbestosis and mesothelioma. Asbestos consists of many tiny fibers, when inhaled, lodge in the lungs. Over time, these lodged fibers cause inflammation and lead to debilitating asbestos lung cancer.
Vermiculite is a commonly mined and processed mineral, with safely operating plants on virtually every continent. However, certain types of vermiculite contain significant portions of asbestos. Most notable is the vermiculite that originated in the Libby, Montana. Libby, MT vermiculite mines contained tremolite asbestos, one of the most dangerous forms of asbestos fibers. This vermiculite plant was closed in 1990 after it was found that the mines in Libby were dangerous due to the high levels of asbestos.
This story is about a young man from Puerto Rico who moved to New Jersey in hopes of a better life for himself and his eventual family. He worked as a mixer in a W.R. Grace zonolite processing plant. This plant processed some 350,000 tons of vermiculite ore that was shipped from the vermiculite mine located in Libby, Montana. The vermiculite was used for fireproofing and concrete filler from 1948 until the plant closed in 1994. By 1970, he was making enough money to send some back to his family in Puerto Rico and settle down with his wife in Trenton.
But, now, long after the plant closed, asbestosis afflicts this worker. His breathing is labored and daily tasks are difficult. He has also suffered a stroke. Although there is no direct relationship between asbestos exposure and the occurrence of his stroke, it is well known that patients who suffer from asbestosis typically have highly stressed cardiovascular systems. This is due to the asbestosis filling the lungs constantly with fluid. Blood pressure rises and the heart must work extra hard to force blood through the filled lungs. The stroke could be related to this cardiovascular stress.
This worker and his family are troubled by the fact that W.R. Grace provided little information about the dangers of the plant. Although he was provided with routine medical examinations, the results were inconsistent and contradictory. Examinations in the early 1980's indicated that he had early signs of asbestosis, but as recently as 1991 the physicians cleared him for work with hazardous materials. And, says his wife who now speaks for him because of the stroke, "By the time we knew that he definitely had asbestosis, the damage was already done."
He and his wife have three children and the idea of relaxing into retirement is now no longer possible. He can no longer do the woodworking hobby that he loves and their dreams of traveling to Puerto Rico to visit relatives will never happen. They feel like their world has been taken from them due to the deadly asbestos fibers that contaminated the plant.
» More Mesothelioma Stories
[Page updated April 2005]