"I worked on boilers and pipes; remodeled heating systems; did installations and renovations," says Robert (not his real name pending a lawsuit). "Back then, everything was covered in asbestos--now I have problems." (Asbestosis is caused by inhaling asbestos fibers in the mining or milling of asbestos, in the textile, cement and insulating industries.)
"Back in the 1950s, I crawled into the boilers and mixed asbestos just like cement; pasted it all over the inside of the boilers and that would insulate it for fire and heat," he says.
" It had to be done. We didn't wear any protective gear. We had gloves but nobody knew about the danger so why would we bother with safety precautions?
"A few years ago it wasn't so bad, I just had trouble breathing some days. Then about six months ago, it started getting a lot worse. I couldn't breathe or swallow and had pains in my chest. My doctor took an x-ray and the results were spots on my lungs. They ordered an MRI.
I had the MRI four months ago. First off they thought I had lung cancer but it turns out that I just have asbestosis, but that is bad enough.
There is no cure.
The only thing they can do is give me these three little respirators. I keep losing my voice and the more I talk I start coughing and it gets out of control. I'm not on oxygen at night—yet. I know that's coming. I am using everything available now. The doctor said if it gets worse, I just have to put up with it: get oxygen and suffer. It hasn't reached the point yet that I need to be hospitalized.
This disease is very frustrating. I can't get enough air to cough the way you want to: you feel like you want to, but you can't bring it up.
Many years ago I took a trip to Quebec and saw an asbestos mine. It was a big hole in the ground. If they can't find a place to put asbestos, they should put it right back where they got it from. I wonder how many men are left who worked in those mines...
I know there are incidents where asbestos is needed, certain applications that need fireproof materials. But if they can send a man to the moon, why can't they make a safer, fireproof product?
I try to get out of the house and I even have a small job--I am a night watchman. I don't sit around the house and mope. I'll take whatever comes along, for as long as I can.
But I can't help thinking, if only I knew then what I know now..."
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Worldwide, 60 countries (including those in the European Union) have banned the use of asbestos, in whole or in part. The US and Canada have not yet banned asbestos and Canada still operates asbestos mines in Quebec. The mines are owned by the Quebec government and the province is the second largest producer in the world behind Russia. Much of Quebec's asbestos is exported to the US.
Unlike Robert back in the 1950s, the US and Canada know now the dangers of asbestos, yet it still isn't banned. And no doubt, there will be more sufferers like Robert in years to come.