American rock and roll musician Warren Zevon was born on January 24, 1947, and would have been 65 last Tuesday. Unfortunately, his life was cut short in 2003 after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, a deadly cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. Zevon, perhaps best known for his 1978 hit “Werewolves of London,” never knew when he was exposed to the substance, but even minor contamination can lead to cause a number of deadly diseases for its victims.
Mesothelioma is most commonly found in people who worked directly with asbestos. Usually, this means miners, shipbuilders, factory workers and construction workers. Nevertheless, Zevon’s story is one that reminds us that many people succumb to mesothelioma, asbestosis and other asbestos related diseases without any direct or sustained contact to asbestos materials.
In many ways the dangers of second-hand asbestos exposure are not unlike the dangers of second-hand smoke, which is banned in public spaces in 27 states. When processed, individual asbestos fibers are often only visible with a microscope. These fibers, which when inhaled damage the lining of one’s lungs over the course of several decades, are easily transported through the air or even on clothing worn in a location where asbestos was used. As a result, exposure to family members, neighbors and other acquaintances of asbestos workers can easily occur. Occasionally, in places where asbestos production and processing was a major industry, such as Libby, Montana, second-hand asbestos can represent a massive issue.
Zevon, who sung about asbestos use in factories in his 1987 song “The Factory,” likely was exposed at a relatively young age. While he went about his life, the asbestos slowly developed into an ultimately terminal case of mesothelioma. It can often take 10-40 years from the initial asbestos exposure for symptoms of mesothelioma to show.
Zevon wrote, recorded and produced his last album, “The Wind,” in the year between his diagnosis and his eventual death. It was released just two weeks before he died. That album, largely inspired by his fight against his disease, went on to win several Grammy Awards, but also is an allegory for the stark realities faced by victims of asbestos.
Preventing tragedies like the death of Warren Zevon is only possible if asbestos is banned.
Join our fight. Help us ban asbestos now.