On March 29, 2017 the U.S. Senate passed S. Res.98; a resolution designating the first week of April as “National Asbestos Awareness Week” in an attempt to warn and educate the public about asbestos exposure and its deadly health effects.
Despite it being a known carcinogen and its ban in many countries, it is not banned in the United States and thousands of workers in the United States are exposed to and die from asbestos-related diseases each year.
Asbestos Awareness Week was founded in 2005 by the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) that since its founding in 2004 has dedicated time and resources to educate the public about the misconceptions associated with asbestos. The awareness originally began as just a singular day dedicated to the cause but in 2007, the ADAO asked to the U.S. Senate to extend the day to a week-long event. The ADAO is also holding its 13th International Asbestos Awareness and Prevention Conference in Washington, DC April 7 to April 9, 2017.
Asbestos was an extremely common and popular building material that was used throughout most of the twentieth century. It was, and still is, an abundant, naturally occurring substance that can be mined in mass quantities. Because of its abundancy, it is in-expensive, which allows for it to be used in a litany of products. Asbestos is also unique because even though its natural state when freshly mined resembles a rock, the rock can be easily separated, revealing tiny and very strong fibers. These fibers allow asbestos to be used in thousands of products – from plastics, to adhesives, to insulation. Asbestos was also used in paints, roofing, soundproofing, boilers, steam pipes, brake pads, and clutch pads. Strong, heat resistant, abundant, and cheap; these tiny fibers are deadly and when inhaled or ingested, can lead to mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis.
It can take decades from initial exposure for asbestos-related illnesses such as mesothelioma and asbestosis to develop; a point that companies relied on to down play and even ignore the fact that their workers were being exposed to these deadly fibers. It was not until a string of lawsuits in the early 1970s that companies were forced to admit their awareness and responsibility.
Celeste Monforton, DrH, MPH, “Senate Urges Surgeon General to Warn Americans About Asbestos,” Science Blogs (March 30, 2017). [Link]