After being diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare and deadly cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, a 51-year-old teacher and mother of 2 children had her life turned upside-down.
Following her devastating mesothelioma diagnosis, she has had to leave a job she loves and deal with the stark reality that she may never have a chance to spend the golden years with her husband or watch her children grow up. Now, she is speaking out and suing the school system that allowed her to be poisoned.
On November 21, she appeared on Good Morning America (GMA) to tell her story and warn others about the risks post by asbestos exposure in Philadelphia schools, where she taught for 30 years. Despite the well-known and well-documented risks posed by asbestos, little was done to inform teachers, staff, students or parents about the problem. As she told GMA:
“I was completely unaware, as are my colleagues and staff and students, that there even was asbestos present in the school building. I did not know the steam pipes behind me were wrapped in asbestos and I touched them. I hung clotheslines to hang student work, and I used it because I was creating a home for my students."
With the best of intentions, this teacher was unknowingly jeopardizing the health of her and her students. Had the school system warned her about the asbestos, or remediated it responsibly, she might have been able to teach for another decade.
"I didn't know it was my last year. I just feel like I didn't get to end it the way I wanted to end it," she told GMA. Now, she is suffering from a preventable cancer that will likely take her life.
Asbestos Exposure Is a Threat to Everyone
The asbestos contamination in Philadelphia schools is a huge problem, but it is not unique to the city. Public schools across the country are overrun with asbestos, and unless those in charge take action soon, many more teachers and students are likely to suffer a similar tragedy.
Until the 1970s, when the risks of asbestos were finally publicized, it was widely used in construction. The naturally occurring fibrous mineral was cheap, durable, fire-resistant and easy to work with. Millions of tons of asbestos were used to build and insulate schools, workplaces, homes, and military bases across the country.
The health risks posed by this “legacy asbestos” cannot be overstated.
As the asbestos in these structures ages, it starts to disintegrate. And once the tiny asbestos fibers are airborne, the risk of exposure skyrockets. If inhaled, asbestos fibers may get trapped in the lining of the lung and lead to mesothelioma.
Both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have said that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.
‘If You Get Sick From an Asbestos Exposure, You Are Very Sick’
After the asbestos contamination was discovered in the Philadelphia schools, environmental scientist Jerry Roseman was called in. The results of his investigation are startling. He told ABC News:
"I'm often seeing damaged, exposed, and available asbestos that are in areas where there are children and staff. I kind of have a searing image in my mind of a child who has his arm around an asbestos covered pipe in a gym and he's sucking his thumb. That's a problem."
Much of the exposed asbestos that Roseman found looked like it had been present for months or years. “It's not right. It's really not right,” he said. “If you get sick from an asbestos exposure, you are very sick.”
Despite the rampant use of asbestos in public schools, the teachers who spend decades inside these dangerous buildings are not generally recognized as being at higher risk of asbestos exposure than the general population. Should that continue to be the case?
School districts across the country need to deal with the legacy asbestos inside the buildings for which they are responsible. Now.
If they decline to take serious action, it is almost certain more teachers and students will develop mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. And once someone is sick, there is no cure. That is how devastating mesothelioma is.
ARBAN — A True Blueprint for an Asbestos Free Future
Many Americans believe that, given the well-documented dangers of asbestos and the hideous death toll, asbestos is banned in their country. Shockingly, it is not. But that may change soon.
On November 19, the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act of 2019 (ARBAN) was approved with bipartisan support by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. The bill would fully ban the importation and processing of all forms of asbestos in America.
In addition, ARBAN sets requirements that would force government regulators to reckon with the legacy asbestos lurking in buildings across the country. School systems, like Philadelphia, would gain crucial information and federal support that would save lives.
If the House passes the bill, ARBAN must still be passed by the Senate and signed by President Trump. Hopefully, Congress and the president can put partisan differences aside and come together to protect Americans.
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY), one of ARBAN’s most vocal supporters, laid out the stark consequences of not taking action on asbestos:
“We have known the dangers of asbestos for the better part of a century, but after all that time it continues to be imported and used in commerce. As a result, tens of thousands of Americans are dying every year from asbestos exposure.
The alternative is more sick teachers and more students exposed to asbestos. As Tonko said, “We owe it to these victims, their families and all who are at risk of exposure to enact this legislation that will establish, at long last, a ban on asbestos use.”
The time for pretending asbestos isn’t a problem is over. The Reinstein Act would finally end America’s deadly asbestos addiction and put the country on the path towards a healthier future.