Last weekend at the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival, a 75- minute documentary about asbestos exposure and mesothelioma made its world debut, highlighting the aggressive and often fatal diseases associated with asbestos exposure, and how it has affected so many lives. After mesothelioma claimed the life of their grandmother in 2012, cousins Conor Lewis and Zack Johnson set out on a cross-country bike tour to learn more about this aggressive cancer that had taken their grandmother months after she learned of her diagnosis and caused simply by laundering her husband’s clothes.
The pair began their journey in Astoria Oregon, eventually making their way to towns like Libby, Montana and Ambler, Pennsylvania; two areas that are listed on the National Priorities List as Superfund sites because of the high levels of asbestos fibers still present throughout the communities. The cousins met many families along the way that have been personally affected by asbestos exposure; whether through the loss of a loved one, or through their own illnesses. Each had their own story to tell, about how they did not know about the dangers of asbestos, but asbestos companies and manufacturers did, and chose to not inform their employees; placing profits above workers’ health.
Asbestos was once a popular building material that was heavily used in the mid-20th century in the United States. In fact, during that time, more than 30 million tons of asbestos were used in industrial facilities, homes, schools, shipyards, steel mills, power plants, and commercial buildings. Its many uses stem from the fact that it is durable, heat resistant, unaffected by most chemicals, and is able to be spun and woven into cloth. The mining, milling, and processing of asbestos creates many small fibers that become airborne and easily pass through the body’s natural defenses before settling in soft organ tissue like the lungs. Once inside the lungs, the asbestos fibers slice into the sensitive tissue causing irritation and scarring. The body is unable to breakdown the asbestos fibers, fibrosis occurs, and eventually tumors develop.
The cousins end their journey in New York City with the hopes that their work educates the public about the dangers of asbestos and how corporate greed placed so many lives in danger. The documentary also mentions that asbestos is still legal use in the United Sates, even though its use is heavily regulated.
The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization is in full support of this documentary, and was even part of a discussion panel that followed the screening. Additionally, the ADAO is gearing up for Global Asbestos Awareness Week, which is set to take place April 1-7. This annual week of action is dedicated to raising awareness and prevention through educational organizations, asbestos victims’ stories, and expert testimonies.
The documentary Dirty Laundry has been submitted to other various film festivals, but you can watch the trailer here.