"I started working for General Motors in 1969," Russell said."I worked there for 39 years. The first 13 years I was there I worked in the foundry. The foundry was covered in asbestos---in the walls and ceilings. They used it to line the inside of the furnaces; they had asbestos in big rolls, and they used asbestos bricks in the furnaces. When I left the foundry and went over to the main site, into an engineering building (which was an office building), asbestos was in the ceilings there. We had to climb in the ceilings to pull wires and run pipe. I worked in the main site until I retired."
Russell is just one of hundreds of people who would have been unknowingly exposed to asbestos at the plant. But it was likely even worse for the old timers. "The older pipefitters used to say that they would fix the asbestos insulation up with water in order to put it on the pipes, and they would apply it with their hands," Russell said. "There was a lot of asbestos around then. Until they found out it was bad for you, then they started cleaning up the site. The asbestos was taken out of the offices, but it was too late. I worked in that area for five or six years before they came in and removed the asbestos. That was probably around 1985, 1986."
While people may have contracted asbestosis from exposure, in all likelihood, nobody would have said anything about it anyway "You couldn't really do anything against GM until after you retired," Russell said. He retired a year and a half ago, in 2007.
"It was about two years before I retired that I started having breathing problems," he said. "I noticed that I was having trouble getting up the stairs. Every few steps I would have to stop and catch my breath. I'm not a smoker, I've never smoked.
General Motors used to give us breathalyser tests every so often. The first time I took it I didn't pass it properly. But I don't know what that means – it was never explained to me. I took the test from my family doctor, and the same result, but he didn't do anything about it. Then, in 2006, about a year before I retired I did the test again at GM and the results were the same. There was one area I didn't pass. Still, nobody told me what that meant. I even took a pulmonary test at the local hospital, with the same results. I have to go back to my doctor in October, and believe me I am going to push for some answers then. I want to find out just what the problem is and what kind of affect it's having, and if there are any long-term health implications."
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Right now, Russell uses an inhaler to help him get up the stairs. "If I'm working outside or doing anything strenuous I have to take a couple of puffs on it," he said. " I can mow the lawn, as long as I don't overdo it. But if I climb stairs it's a problem." But what happens in a few years if things get worse? Russell is only 67 years old. He needs some answers, and believes a lawyer can help.