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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 in 1999.

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 work.

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 https://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 to do.

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.


Front Page, Week Of:

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 Fund Legislation

11/17/05: White Lung Mourns Jose Jesus Pessora

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

Jim Fite's Alerts:

Asbestos Victim's Superfund Compensation Program

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.

Leonard Makowski's Alerts:

The White Lung Association stands in opposition to The Specter Bill (S.852)

WLA Alerts & News

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.

Australia Bans Asbestos!



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


World Trade Center Health:

In May 2003, the Global Environment & Technology Foundation developed the "Asbestos Strategies" report.

British Asbestos Newsletter:

The latest issue is Spring 2005


News from India:

The latest issue is January 4, 2007



December 17, 2000 is Asbestos Hazard Awareness Day


Current Projects:

Asbestos Museum


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 Lung Association



In Memoria:

Paul Safchuck May 21, 2003

Dr. William Nicholson Dies at 70

Ray Sentes Brave Fighter For Asbestos Victims

For more information please contact info whitelung org.