Sunday, February 22, 2009

Asbestos Still Around - An Environmantal Nightmare That Won't go Away

Sky is grey, a big storm is coming.

Did you know that there is no official ban on asbestos? Well I didn't it. I was under the impression that the deadly asbestos was banned years ago. The EPA did ban some asbestos products but it was over turned. I guess I didn't hear that part. Most of the discontinued use has been voluntary (like brake linings), mostly to avoid legal battles about this serious cancer causing "natural" mineral.

I remember as a kid, my cousin collected rocks and he proudly showed me the the silky asbestos. I remember liking its softness and being intrigued by its long strands that pulled apart. I was in awe when my cousin showed me how it didn't react to a lit match, little to my Aunty's knowledge.

A lot has been learned since then. What we now know is this abundant, naturally occurring, what was once considered a miracle fiber, causes a special form of deadly lung cancer - mesothelioma. This type of cancer is only caused by asbestos exposure. Like emphysema that is only caused by cigarette exposure (unless you have the genetic disorder), having mesothelioma means you have been exposed to asbestos.

Asbestos is currently in the headlines as the court case in Libby, Montana has captured national attention, again, also inspiring the documentary film with the same name. In a nut shell, the under 3,000 town of Libby was in the fall out (literally) of the vermiculite mining company called Grace (some real irony here) that knew (probably, waiting for court results) the vermiculite contained traces of asbestos and willingly continued business as usual. Imagine dusty workers coming home shaking their clothing, children playing in the dust and schools' facilities being built with stuff. This is considered the worst case of industrial poisoning of a whole community in American history with nearly 10% of its population dead from asbestos exposure.

Vermiculite in its pure form is safe, the problem is it can have a little asbestos in it. Most vermiculite is now tested world wide for asbestos. I could make a cynical comment here but will refrain. Vermiculite is widely used in agriculture. Now there's a can of worms.

Another asbestos arena is the oil rigging business. Most of the current oil rigs were built years ago and still have the asbestos that was used for the extreme heat of rigging and refinery. As this, and most, asbestos ages, it becomes more brittle, more likely to become air borne and lodge in the lungs. Since mesothelioma usually takes decades after asbestos exposure to rear its toxic head, making claims against companies becomes very difficult. And that's if the company is still in business. To add insult to injury, a Bill was introduced in Washington, with ties to Cheney, that would have the foxes guarding the chicken coop suggesting limits be put on claims through diagnostic criteria etc. Luckily it didn't get very far-so much for workers' rights.

World Wide over 60 countries have banned or partially banned this deadly mineral, but not in North America. Yes, that's right, Canada, the U.S. and Mexico have not banned asbestos. Heck, Canada has a town named Asbestos, the largest asbestos mining operation in the world that exports nearly all of it to third world countries for insulation in schools etc. How's that for NIMBY? (not in my back yard)

The dangers and environmental exposure of asbestos needs to be headlines again, and stay there until a ban becomes reality. If 60 other countries can do it, so can we. (you too Canada) The reality of asbestos is pretty black and white - it causes asbestos related diseases and is THE only cause of mesothelioma. For more information, visit the Mesothelioma and Asbestos Awareness Center to see what you can do about it.There's no umming and erring here, the case is clear.

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