Asbestos Must Be Banned Throughout the World
Statement of the White Lung Association
Jim Fite, National Secretary
On behalf of President Paul Safchuck and the National Board of Directors,
I bring you the most heartfelt Greetings. We thank the Mayor, Unions,
sponsors and organizers of this event. We thank each participant. Each
of us is so fortunate to be a part of this historic meeting.
We wish to share our experience as workers diseased by asbestos exposure.
The use of asbestos in the United States has caused millions of deaths,
cost over a trillion dollars in personal and property damage, and has
contaminated over 20% of the buildings and 30% of the water systems. Autopsy
studies conducted on the general public in New York City reported over
90% had asbestos fibers (and therefore anti-inflammatory reactions/disease)
in the lungs. Published reports in Texas showed asbestos fibers in the
lungs of over 40% of the infants who died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Our country faces a massive health epidemic as a result of asbestos use.
Last year over a quarter of a million disabled workers applied for compensation
or filed legal action to recover medical expenses for asbestos related
disease. Over 100,000 of the 2.7 million living asbestos victims died
Our experience clearly demonstrates that asbestos must be totally banned.
We believe this ban must be a global cooperation effort. This effort will
compensate the victims and decontaminate the property. The White Lung
Association (WLA) has thousands of personal statements and tens of thousands
of scientific documents, which testify to the need to ban asbestos use.
Workers who were exposed to and diseased by asbestos founded the White
Lung Association. We were founded in Los Angeles, California, on December
17, 1979. We are a non-profit organization. Our mission is to educate
the public to the hazards of asbestos exposure. There is no safe level
of asbestos and working with asbestos safely is cost prohibitive.
My story is similar to that of the other founders. Most of us worked
in one of the shipyards, we came from different trades but we were all
active in our unions. Although asbestosis was compensable in many state
and federal worker compensation programs, almost no one was "diagnosed"
and so over a million deaths were misdiagnosed as heart attacks, non-asbestos
cancer, pneumonia, etc. In 1979, the shipyard operators and most of society
were using asbestos in water pipe and pipe/duct insulation, plaster, abrasive
pads, mastics, cement boards vinyl tiles, etc. Hundreds of thousands of
tons were place in U.S. Society each year.
In 1972, the federal OSHA law included regulation of the work with asbestos
and asbestos products. During the seventies different types of asbestos
use were banned, including spray insulation on structural steel, pipe
insulation and spray plaster for building interiors. Everyone was denying
they used asbestos and there was widespread ignorance amongst the workers,
myself included. Laboratory standards and testing equipment were crude
and expensive. Today, if someone wants to know if something is asbestos
there are dozens of labs in the phone book. Today, analysis is standardized
and can be specific down to the molecular structure for as little as 3
hours average wage. Laboratory testing was expensive in 1979; management
could look you in the eye and say, "this is not asbestos." It was hard
to prove otherwise. In 1979, we did not know even if we were sick from
mesothelioma or asbestosis. Many doctors made false diagnosis.
Brave scientists like William Hueber and Irving Selikoff revealed the
health disaster caused by asbestos use. But the transmission belt of knowledge
did not reach into the bottom of a ship. In 1973, an oil refinery worker
in Texas was granted the right to sue the asbestos manufacturers and distributors
due to the fact that they did not tell him of the hazards of working with
asbestos. The labels were only affixed to some materials in 1964. The
worker had handled asbestos containing material prior to 1964. His attorney
proved that the asbestos companies knew of the dangers of asbestos exposure
decades before they warned anyone. In 1979, there were moves amongst shipyard
workers for health evaluations. There were also scattered lawsuits in
various state and federal courts. In 1979 there was so much exposure,
so much death and disease, little compensation and truth and very little
health education. In 1979 over 400,000 workers received daily exposure
to air borne asbestos equivalent to breathing 10 million fibers an hour.
Although the U.S. Public Health Service launched a media campaign to
urge testing for older shipyard workers, most of us did not have contact
with a doctor who could tell asbestosis from coalmine pneumoconiosis.
Our unions were faced with shipyards that were closing. The liability
became known, first by the insurance community and then by the shipyard
owners. The shipyard work, particularly repair and demolition, was exported
to other countries.
The Black Lung Association and the United Mine Workers Union had gotten
a compensation program for coal miners through the federal government.
Textile workers were also both trying to get a union and compensation.
They were trying to get compensation for byssinosis and had organized
a benevolent organization, the Brown Lung Association. Since our x-rays
had white spots on them and in solidarity with these organizations that
helped us get started; we called ourselves the White Lung Association.
Early in our development we received support from the Oil, Chemical and
Atomic Workers, International Electrical Workers, International Brotherhood
of Electrical Workers, International Union of Marine and Shipbuilding
Workers, the Asbestos Workers Union and International Union of Machinists,
their locals affiliates and many other unions and community groups. We
were also supported by numerous worker oriented foundations and some levels
of federal and state governments. Primarily we were supported by thousands
of asbestos victims. Meetings often overflowed the halls and churches
where they were held. Demonstrations, strikes and walkouts were frequent
in these early years. In these years before the Internet, the appearance
of many people saying the same thing and sharing the same experience required
them to be physically present. Although we were subjected to terrorist
attacks, surveillance by Pinkerton spies, threats from powerful forces,
investigations from ReaganÕs IRS, our message was undeniable and our mass
support would not allow our elimination.
The general public was always our focus. Our misery, poverty, and maltreatment
were an issue, but we knew clearly that the important message was to stop
asbestos exposure for those following behind us. There was no cure for
us; the only cure for asbestos disease is prevention. We formed a speaker's
bureau and filled every union hall, church and school auditorium that
could be found. We educated individuals about the hazards of asbestos
and about their legal rights.
Our role was the education of the public and that we did thoroughly
and entirely. These efforts, combined with those of public health workers
and unions, caused the formation of asbestos hazard education units in
most government and union organizations. The Occupational Health and Safety
Administration (OSHA) began hearings to strictly regulate asbestos use
in the work place. One of our main roles in this process was to produce
articulate victims of asbestos exposure to verify and give personal testimony
to the health horror of asbestos exposure.
One result of all the educational efforts was the creation of a huge
demand for legal representation. This created a separate section of business
for trial attorneys. This business has been very successful for these
attorneys. Ninety percent of the trial attorneys who got in the business
by 1980 are multimillionaires today. Over a billion dollars of compensation
has passed through this section of the business community. Over the years,
the asbestos victimsÕ portion of the compensation dollar obtained through
suing the asbestos companies as declined. In 1981, the asbestos victims
got 60% of the compensation dollar and today it is 20%.
In 1981, Johns Manville, a huge corporation that represented one half
of the asbestos business, declared bankruptcy. They faced only 16,000
lawsuits, but the company was cutting its losses. This signaled the change
in policy by the asbestos industry. First, asbestos lawsuits would be
consolidated in mass actions from which the attorneys could be paid and
the victims denied. Secondly, the asbestos business would be exported.
In 1984, Lloyds of London, the reinsurance mechanism for US shipyards
and much other industry allowed in "new namesÕ to assume the asbestos
liability. In 1986, OSHA lowered the level of asbestos exposure in the
work place to .2 fibers/cubic centimeter. This was not safe but was very
costly to business and required record keeping, which could be, used in
future personal injury litigation.
We joined with the Black Lung, the Brown Lung and several injured workers
groups to sponsor a Congress of Disabled Workers in 1981 and 1982. These
meetings produced model federal legislation to provide compensation to
victims of occupational disease. This program is greatly popular with
the working people in the United States. However, any government nor industry
group has never given it.
Following the creation of the model "Compensation Program for Occupational
Disease Victims" and the unity of injured and disease workers organizations,
the White Lung Association voted in 1982 to emphasize its educational
effort on the hazards associated with asbestos in buildings. In particular,
we emphasized asbestos exposure in schools. We developed a Public Service
Announcement with the famous actor, Jack Klugman, warning of the danger
of asbestos contamination of schools. This announcement, although strictly
scripted with information from the U.S. Government agencies, was stopped
by threats of lawsuits against the television stations by the asbestos
industry. We redoubled our efforts in the education of parents and teachers.
A Family Project was begun in 1983. Many of its members and staff were
instrumental in writing and providing testimony for the Asbestos Hazard
Emergency Response Act (AHERA). This act of Congress regulated asbestos
exposure in schools. During this time we also distributed thousands of
pamphlets on the legal rights of schools and state governments to sue
the asbestos industry. We also aided many state and local governments,
school districts, health care facilities, government agencies, unions
and other groups in understanding their legal rights.
OSHA and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) passed severe standards
of control for worker and environmental use in 1986 and 1987. This created
a climate in which the businesses of property decontamination, medical
services, waste hauling, disposal and much more were created.
In 1984 the White Lung Association began the Technical Information Project.
The purpose of this project was to provide the most up-to-date and technical
information to the general public. A primary component of the technical
information project was a training program. This training program provided
guidance to school districts through out the United States. This program
covered over one million students. Training was provided to unions, government
agencies. Community groups and businesses. The technical information program
also provided inspection of buildings and assisted in health effects surveys
with the scientific community. By 1989 much of these materials were codified
in state and federal training requirements.
Over the years the WLA helped build trade groups of asbestos abatement
professionals and establish policies for health groups, government agencies
and unions. Strikes and demonstrations, in addition to agitation for safe
conditions by state maintenance workers, including many members of the
WLA, led to the first state requirements for protection when working with
asbestos (Maryland). We agitated to prevent the use of prisoners in this
Throughout the 80's and into the 1990's the WLA exposed and opposed
the denial of compensation for asbestos victims. We opposed the abuses
of the Manville Trust and other bankruptcy schemes meant to deny victims
compensation. We opposed mass trials and settlement that reduced compensation
payments. We filed many friend-of-the-court briefs in opposition to mass
trials, class actions and other legal maneuvers meant to deny and defraud
victims of their compensation. Our educational efforts help remove company
doctors from compensation panels.
We have provided information for many legal actions, which have maintained
or restored the rights of asbestos victims. The company lawyers have tried
to establish legal precedents that deny victims compensation if they die,
deny compensation to family members, deny punitive damages, trick victims
into accepting deferred payments of compensation, deny medical benefits
or limit categories of diseases which will be compensated. We opposed
the company efforts to pay black victims different amounts than white
victims based on supposed difference in "lung size". In these areas we
have been successful. Between 1991 and 1995 we were engaged in training
sections of the U.S. Public Health Service and the supervision of asbestos
inspections in U.S. Government buildings such as the Food and Drug Administration
and the National Institute of Health Campus. More recently we have provided
research on a variety of projects concerning the history of asbestos exposure
and the dangers of low level asbestos exposure. Our website is, created
in 1998, is http://www.whitelung.org/.
. We have been unable to complete our task, adopted in 1995, to establish
a museum of the Hazards of Asbestos Exposure. We have been quite straightforward
and sharp with the attorneys who represent asbestos victims. Many of these
attorneys continue to fight for the compensation of asbestos victims.
Some continue to support the WLA. We have been active in educating the
public to the need to preserve the toxic tort process and to the brave
efforts of many trial lawyers. We have also been critical of lawyers who
do not serve asbestos victims well. The fact that we supported the compensation
program for all occupational disease victims was not welcomed by some
attorneys. However, we still feel this program is of more substance to
the asbestos victim than the present system. We welcome joint work with
any honest lawyer, but we have always refused to become an adjunct of
any business or other social organization. We have been offered many lucrative
deals to exchange our independence for cash. Our refusal has limited the
funds that could be raised.
The education about asbestos hazards has become codified and serviced
by the business that arose from the code enforcement. This success has
removed the basic income we received for our educational efforts. The
donations from the legal and medical community have been directed to other
public health efforts. Education funds by unions are spent on their own
programs. Government and foundation grants are concentrated on other problems.
For decades it was important for society to hear the needs of asbestos
victims. Now those needs must compete with the needs of building owners
who have been economically injured by asbestos exposure.
Our organization has fallen on very difficult times, much of our literature
and exhibits have been preserved only in public storage. Our offices have
been moved to homes and our staff has been forced to find other employment.
However, we continue our activity, having lived through tough times before,
we are doing so again. The increase of victims from asbestos exposure
has exceeded all estimates. The amount of compensation for victims has
greatly declined. This is due to the huge increase in victims and as more
and more manufacturers are driven into bankruptcy. The public continues
to suffer exposure due to lack enforcement of laws. Public Health funds
have been slashed. We do much more and there is still so much more work
We continue to service the general public with information on the hazards
of asbestos victims. We strive to preserve the history of this tragedy.
We strive for a global ban of asbestos use. We want just and equitable
compensation to all asbestos victims. We strive to end the disease and
hardship caused by asbestos use. We offer a voice for the asbestos victims.
Our victories and the evidence of the scientific community are the fuel
that keeps us going. To that fuel we can now add this magnificent gathering
of active workers, victims and scientists. We are very grateful for this
meeting and for our chance to participate. You may rest assured that every
muscle and brain cell in the White Lung Association will support the proposals
and goals of this meeting. The work here is of historic importance and
we cherish our role in it.
4/16/05: Spectre to Introduce
U.S. Asbestos Bill This Week
5/22/05: Individuals Injured
by Asbestos Exposure Oppose Specter's Trust Fund Legislation
10/16/05: Victim's Organizations
Form Asbestos Victims Coalition in Opposition to Asbestos Trust
11/17/05: White Lung Mourns Jose
12/18/05: Frist Introducing Asbestos
Bill in January
12/04/06: Asbestos Watch Newsletter:
Help Celebrate the 27th Anniversary of the WHITE LUNG ASSOCIATION
Asbestos Victim's Superfund
Asbestos Watch March 14, 2005 (Maryland
chapter of the White Lung Association meetings)
Directorate of Safety, Health,
and Environment (open letter)
Joe Oliver's Alerts:
Joe Oliver, National Board Member and former President of the
White Lung Association, has issued a call to all persons to help
gather evidence on the conspiracy by asbestos trade organizations
to suppress the knowledge about the hazards of asbestos exposure.
If you know anything about this horrific history or have documents
which can be used to further prove their heinous crimes, please
contact Joe Oliver, WLA, POB 1483, Balt. MD 21203.
The White Lung Association stands
in opposition to The Specter Bill (S.852)
S.1115: Bill to amend the Toxic Substances
Control Act to reduce the health risks posed by asbestos-containing
products - This bill is supported by the WLA.
Meet Mr. Asbestos
Proceedings of the Asbestos
Symposium for the Asian Countries - now available for purchase.
Senator Specter Breaks Promise to
Mesothelioma Patient and Research Community
Senate Judiciary Committee returns to
Mark-Up on May 11th: Proposed asbestos trust fund legislation
will further penalize victims of asbestos-caused diseases
May 2003, the Global Environment & Technology Foundation developed
the "Asbestos Strategies" report.
The latest issue is Spring 2005
The latest issue is January 4, 2007
December 17, 2000 is Asbestos Hazard Awareness Day
Articles & Publications:
Occupational Respiratory Diseases:
Asbestos Associated Disease -- Reprinted from: Maxcy-Rosenau
Public Health and Preventative Medicine 11th ed. (John
M. Last, Ed.) 1980, Appleton-Century-Crofts
Asbestos Victims Deserve Compensation
Not Betrayal: position release by the Board of Directors, White
Paul Safchuck May
Nicholson Dies at 70
Ray Sentes Brave
Fighter For Asbestos Victims