"In my first year of college I read an ad in the newspaper for asbestos removal laborers at the biggest General Electric plant in the country," says Steve (who wishes to remain anonymous pending an asbestos lawsuit). "They hired college workers to get the cheapest labor for the nastiest job possible. None of us had a clue. I just worked one summer, removing everything inside the plant, everything but the roof. Once we started removing asbestos you couldn't see five feet in front of you due to the dust. It was like a thick white cloud but so thick you could actually see asbestos particles floating in the air, all around us.
"They gave us masks at the beginning of the job, along with suits and a rinse-down station. But it was about 120 degrees inside; we all complained about the heat so they told us that we could remove our masks and outfits. In retrospect that was nonsense. We were still shoveling piles of asbestos; it gagged you, it still covered the whole building.
We didn't complain but everyone just coughed a lot. We were strong college kids and nothing phased us.
The job ended and I went back to college, along with about 25 of my fellow students. After that it seemed to be no big deal. But about two or three years later I developed a chronic cough. I went to a few different doctors and they told me it looked like I had an asthmatic type condition. I never got x-rays, just a cough medicine and antibiotics. I was about 20 years old, absolutely healthy, played sports and never smoked.
All these years, I just assumed that I had asthma and I've been living with it. However, as I'm aging, it is getting worse. At first, the cough was seasonal but now it has developed to pretty much all the time. I can never get a good night's sleep without sleeping pills. I have an inhaler and I take prednisone but nothing is helping anymore. I am only 46 - I hadn't been too concerned about my health until this past year. And my wife is very upset—she thinks something is really wrong with me.
Up until this point I didn't think about getting lung x-rays and tests. I never talked to my doctors about asbestos exposure because I never realized that it could affect me all these years later.
I'm still a healthy guy but this nagging, persistent cough-- and taking the harshest meds-- is not getting any better. In fact I saw my doctor three times in the last two weeks. Now he is sending me to the hospital for tests.
I have a lump in my throat thinking about it -I'm a big strong guy and it breaks me up. People try to get cheap labor and they didn't tell us the consequences. But they knew. My wife's uncle really gives me cause for concern--not only for him but for myself.
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And I don't have medical insurance. It's sad that the US hasn't yet banned asbestos. What is wrong with this world? A lawsuit can't give me back what I have lost but I might be in store for a lot of medical expenses. And I have to think about my family—that is what I fear the most."