Judy Clauson knows that a fast-killing cancer caused by exposure to asbestos has left her with only a short while to live. She says her remaining days are precious.
But Friday, the 44-year-old mother of two from Aberdeen plans to join Sen. Patty Murray in Seattle to support the need for laws to ban the use of asbestos in this country.
“There is no reason for anyone to be using asbestos anymore. There is other material that can do the same thing that isn’t lethal. Asbestos kills. I’m proof of that,” she said Thursday in a telephone interview.
It was in the late ’90s that Murray said she first learned that the United States was one of the few Western countries that hadn’t outlawed the use of asbestos. In 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency instituted a ban on almost all uses of the disease-causing fibers but, almost immediately, the Canadian asbestos industry succeeded in getting a federal appeals court to overturn the EPA’s effort.
Murray’s staff questioned people from Washington state who had asbestos illness, and EPA officials and those from other agencies who had the responsibility to protect workers, their family members and the public from exposure to the fiber. The senator said that more had to be done.
Six years ago Murray first introduced legislation to ban the use and importation of asbestos. The three-term Democrat was almost the lone voice on Capitol Hill pushing for the law and for federal agencies to do more.
Her efforts were fought openly and behind the scenes by lobbyists from the asbestos and automotive industry and the White House, which was pushing for different industry-friendly legislation that would have prevented lawsuits against companies that used asbestos.
Yet Murray stuck with it, holding numerous hearings of Senate subcommittees on which she served and at informational news conferences, such as the one schedule for Friday.
Health experts were telling her the need for the ban is increasing.
They said that the importation of raw asbestos as well as brake shoes, roofing tiles and other material using asbestos has increased over the past 12 years.
Physicians and epidemiologists expected the incidents of asbestos disease to drop off by the ’90s. It hasn’t.
“It continues to climb, but what is of greater concern is that we’re seeing a different profile than the workers exposed in the ’40s and ’50s,” said Dr. Richard Lemen, former U.S. assistant surgeon general. “Now we’re seeing patients who are younger, who are women and who have never worked with asbestos, sick.”
Clauson is an example of this.
“The doctors couldn’t believe I had mesothelioma. They said I was too young and I never worked with asbestos. They treated me for all sorts of problems, but when my lungs filled with fluid, they finally figured it out,” Clauson said.
Mesothelioma normally takes 20 or more years for symptoms to develop, and she said her doctors finally determined that her exposure to asbestos was from her former husband who worked at a metal foundry in Hoquiam.
“He would come home every day covered head to toe in heavy black dust, and I would wash his work clothes. We didn’t know the dust contained asbestos. We had no clue,” she said.
Last month, with the support of 16 other senators, Murray introduced the Ban Asbestos in America Act of 2007.
Murray’s legislation is needed, said Lemen, who has been studying the epidemiology of asbestos disease for 20 years.
“A ban today won’t help these people, but it may prevent the next generation from getting asbestos disease. Not only will it halt the imports but the latest version of the legislation will demand that government pay much more attention to existing asbestos that can be found all over the country, including in insulation in at least 15 millions homes and businesses.”
The bill also included $50 million for research into treatment for asbestos diseases.
For Clauson it will be too late.
“There is really nothing they can do for me,” she said. “The doctors told me that chemo and radiation and the like will only add a month or two to my life. I passed. I’m just going to live out what I have day by day.”