An intensive grassroots lobbying effort, in conjunction with more than a dozen US Senators, are pushing the Department of Defense to include funds for mesothelioma research in its 2009 appropriations request. Supporters of the initiative believe that since at least a third of those suffering from mesothelioma are Navy veterans or shipyard workers who built Navy ships, the DoD should step up its efforts to fund research into the deadly mesothelial cancer.
Chris Hahn, executive director of the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (MARF), says that mesothelioma research has become something of an orphan in the cancer research world, without steady streams of research dollars to persuade researchers to focus on the asbestos-related disease. Hahn says his group is not requesting that the Department of Defense specifically fund mesothelioma research, instead asking that mesothelioma be listed as a high priority for the Pentagon’s medical research program. By listing mesothelioma as a priority, grant-seekers can compete for funds from the DoD’s program, which Congress chooses the funding level for. In the 2008 defense bill, Congress set a level of $50 million for the program. Senators in areas of the country where defense industries and naval bases have exposed many workers to asbestos have signed on to the effort, sending a letter to the Senate Appropriations Defense panel urging the prioritization of mesothelioma research.
Supporting legislators include those from Washington State , where the Puget Sound ’s naval shipyards have created one of the nation’s highest level of asbestos-related diseases, Montana , where a vermiculite mine in Libby has been notorious for asbestos contamination, and Connecticut , where the Navy maintains a large submarine base that exposed more than 100,000 workers to the deadly mineral fiber. About 3,000 Americans develop mesothelioma each year, and a similar number die. The disease can take decades to develop, and many of those who develop mesothelioma are those who were exposed in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, before the Navy replaced asbestos-bearing materials in its ships and facilities. There are currently no generally effective treatments for mesothelioma, although cases detected in the very earliest stages can sometimes be surgically treated. MARF will be holding its annual mesothelioma symposium in Washington , DC , on June 26, bringing mesothelioma and asbestos activists together with Congressional representatives to discuss the research initiative and other projects. MARF itself funds mesothelioma research with about $1 million a year; Hahn says that the research establishment would need around $29 million each year to make substantial progress in finding effective treatments for mesothelioma.