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"No One Told Us Asbestos was Dangerous"

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Ridgedale, MO"The doctors told me I will die a slow death at an early age," says Kenneth, who worked with asbestos for many years. "I should have taken better care of myself when I was younger, but I didn't know how and no one told me the job was hazardous."

Kenneth, age 43, was diagnosed with silicosis in 1989. But from 1985 to1998 he was exposed to asbestos when he worked for oil refineries and is now afraid that he has an asbestos-related disease, such as asbestosis or worse—mesothelioma.

Kenneth worked at Sabine Specialty Coatings; his job was to sandblast inside huge storage tanks. "At Sabine we weren't allowed to wear a respirator," Kenneth says. "There was asbestos inside the tanks and it was always in the air around the refineries when there was any dismantling. When the company found out asbestos was bad for you, it required a change in the pipes. They hired a crew in white suits to break these sleeves off the pipes, wrap them in bags and tag it. People came by in a dump truck and disposed it. I was given a white suit—nothing else. I never saw a respirator and at the time I didn't know asbestos was dangerous; no one told us nor were we given any training. We just did what we were told.

"The steam pipes came in short sections--anywhere from 2 feet to 6 feet--and had a protective wrap of asbestos around them. They were clamped together with aluminum sleeves and the asbestos was the only thing that would hold the heat and not burn so it was used as a fire retardant." Ironically, Kenneth was told that asbestos was also used for safety reasons…

"My husband has spots all over his lungs from sandblasting and I am also worried that he already has an asbestos disease," says Teresa. " He has a shortness of breath and gets winded easily so he can't work full time. And with this economy work is hit or miss."

Kenneth says he has crusty pieces of sand in his lungs from sandblasting which caused silicosis--a form of occupational lung disease caused by inhalation of crystalline silica dust. Silicosis is marked by inflammation and scarring in forms of nodular lesions in the upper lobes of the lungs. Kenneth is concerned that silicosis can pave the way for an asbestos-related disease.

"I worked for Vulcan Materials from the age of 18 and I climbed every piece of equipment sandblasting," Kenneth says. "I worked in the biggest rock quarries in North Carolina and South Carolina. They never shut anything down. For protection I just tied a shirt around my face, wrapped the shirtsleeves around my head, pulled one part of the shirt over my nose, put on sunglasses and start sandblasting. We were never given any safety equipment there either.

"Nowadays OSHA [Occupational Health and Safety Administration] is involved and they are really particular in whatever environment you are working, and you must know how you protect yourself in whatever situation. Back in the old days I don't think OSHA cared either; just get 'er done, work full bore and make money. If you did that, you also got a big chunk of the change. But when you are dealing with big oil companies like BP, and big rock quarries, they probably knew the dangers of asbestos but didn't give a damn because they were getting paid millions of dollars."

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