Mesothelioma Patient Stories:
He Wrote the Book on Asbestos Safety
As an electrician's apprentice in the Newport News Navy Shipyard, this safety-minded man noticed that welders wore ponchos lined with asbestos cloth to protect their clothing from welding sparks. He also remembered that asbestos dust was mixed with water so that it could be applied to the bulkheads, or walls, and the officers' quarters as a fire retardant.
After working as an apprentice for four years, he went away to college to study safety engineering and returned to the shipyard as its safety engineer. As a safety official, he learned that asbestos companies had known of the dangers of asbestos since the 1930s and 1940s. He learned that when asbestos dust was inhaled, it could lead to asbestos lung cancer and diseases such as asbestosis and pleural mesothelioma. He also remembered that as an apprentice, no one warned the workers, who installed asbestos insulation, to wear respirators, or of the dangers of the asbestos insulation and fire retardant material.
This background lead this patient to be the first to publish a book about asbestos exposure safety at the Newport News Shipyard. He was responsible for ensuring that the workers were wearing the proper protective respirators and overalls. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) had recently created standards for occupational exposure of hazardous materials, including asbestos exposure, and he used this as a model to create the safety manual for the workers who were his responsibility.
In an ironic twist of fate, this patient awoke one morning with a pain in his right side, like a hot knife slicing through him. A month later the biopsy showed that he was suffering from malignant pleural mesothelioma. He was furious with the diagnosis because he knew the callous way in which the employers had exposed workers, including him, to asbestos. His mind flashed back to his years as an apprentice when he wore the asbestos ponchos without a second thought, and when he watched as asbestos dust was applied as a fire retardant. He also thought about how he heckled the insulation workers to wear their respirators and to properly remove their coveralls before going home.
Shortly after the diagnosis, he underwent a lengthy operation where surgeons removed his right lung and most of the surrounding tissue. After the surgery, this vibrant man can no longer use his right side and has trouble speaking.
His asbestos safety book may have protected many asbestos workers who followed him, but unfortunately his own book came too late to help protect him.
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[Page updated March 2005]