Mesothelioma (mess-o-thel-e-O-ma): Thats a big word for a little-known, but deadly disease that claims the lives of more than 3,000 Americans each year. Most people have never heard of it. But they have heard of asbestos, the cause of this disease. 

Local organizers of the Mesothelioma Walk, set for April 25 in Harrisburg, hope to increase awareness of the disease, plus raise funds for research.

A group of participants from Delaware County are also participating in memory of friend/family member Barney Harahan.

Mesothelioma is asbestos cancer. Its one of the diseases caused by exposure to asbestos, which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has determined is a carcinogen.

Malignant mesothelioma is cancer of the membranes that surround the lungs and other organs. Its the more rapidly progressing form of cancer that occurs when asbestos fibers are breathed or swallowed. The average life expectancy is one year from the diagnosis of sheet-like malignant tumors covering the lung, the lining of the chest cavity, the lining of the heart and/or diaphragm.

According to the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 27 million Americans had significant asbestos exposure on the job between 1940 and 1980. Barney Harahan, who graduated from Penncrest High School in 1972, was one of them. He worked as a pipe fitter for a utility company that had asbestos in its buildings structure. It also handled products containing asbestos.

In December 1999, Harahan was diagnosed with mesothelioma. At the time, neither her nor his wife, Pat, had ever heard the word or knew of the disease.

“He thought he had something that was curable, or that he had more time,” said Pat.

Seven months later, on July 10, 2000, he died. He was 46 years old. In addition to his wife, he left three children. However, Pat noted, he was able to attend the two graduations that occurred in his family that spring.

Wanting to help others who are at risk or dealing with the disease, Pat helped organize the Mesothelioma Walk. Its dedicated to the memories of five people from the Delaware Valley, including her husband, who have died of the disease since 1999.

On the day of the event, Pat and her family, who live in Exton, and members of Barneys large family—he was one of eight children, most of whom live in Media—will join other families and friends in raising awareness and funds.

Pat noted an individual with mesothelioma is expected to speak at the event.

“Getting the word out (about the disease) is so important,” she said. “Its wonderful to think that what were doing might spare people from what we've gone through.”

Pat also founded a Web site,, in memory of her late husband. It includes facts about the disease, its causes and its prognosis.

It points out that most people probably are not aware that asbestos has been banned in more than 30 countries, but not in the United States. In 1989, the EPA tried to ban its use, but the asbestos industry successfully sued and overturned the ruling. Although tightly regulated, asbestos is still legal in the U.S. in some applications.

The last remaining asbestos mine in the U.S. closed in 2002. Today, 100 percent of the asbestos used in America comes from Canada.

Asbestos is everywhere. Its in brake pads, roofing shingles, insulation and other building materials, fire protection equipment, textiles and floor tiles. Asbestos also has been found as a contaminant in lawn and garden products. Whats more, 733,000 schools and buildings in the U.S. contain asbestos.

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