Andrew Manuel was 42 years old when he died from mesothelioma a few years ago. Before that time, neither he nor his family had even heard of the disease; all they knew is that it was a form of lung cancer, and was mystified about the diagnosis since Andrew had never smoked in his life. Andrew’s story was only one of the stories shared by families who had lost members to this insidious disease at a memorial luncheon held on the Saturday of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization’s annual conference. In addition to remembering lost loved ones, those who attended the luncheon also raised awareness of the asbestos dangers that still exist in the U.S. and around the industrialized world. Paul Ziguelbaum, who suffers from mesothelioma of the peritoneal lining, was recently involved in a study in which 250 everyday products that are routinely sold at WalMart, Target, and other variety stores were tested for asbestos content. A total of three tests by three different laboratories confirmed that over thirty–fully 12 percent of the products tested–contained asbestos. These included common construction materials such as spackling compound and roof patching compound–which according to the “Grace Rule” may legally contain up to 1 percent asbestos and still be marketed as “asbestos free.”
Another person who attended the luncheon was Eric Jonkheere, who had come all the way from his home in the E.U. Both of his parents died from mesothelioma; four other Jonkheere family members have tested positive for elevated levels of asbestos in their lungs, while a fifth has recently undergone surgery. All of those in attendance agreed that legislators in Congress bowing to the desires of corporate lobbyists are the primary reason that asbestos was not completely banned in the U.S. decades ago. Andrew Manuel’s son Dwayne spoke for all of them when he said: ” It’s disturbing to see how companies and politicians try to cover it up… this is a preventable disease.” Ironically, at least two of the attendees were victims of “secondary exposure,” which happens when asbestos fibers are brought into the home on the clothing and in the hair of a family member. Andrew’s widow, Lantanyta, added that the important thing now is to spread the word and raise awareness about asbestos disease. “People need to know,” she said.