The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, April 19, 2013

Insulators, contractors boost asbestosis research – but for how much longer?

By The Building Tradesman

DETROIT – The Breath of Life Foundation once again pitched in financially to help fund asbestos-related disease research at the Karmanos Cancer Institute. But time and funds are running short in the effort to keep the renowned institute’s treatment and research program up and running.

In fact, mesothelioma research is at a critically low level across the country.

With money raised through its annual golf outing, the Breath of Life Foundation – comprised of labor and management representatives – on April 5 donated $75,000 to Karmanos to help fund research and treatment of mesothelioma and other diseases of the lung that have afflicted and killed thousands of building trades workers. Over the past two years, the foundation has given a total of $220,000 to Karmanos.

“First of all, thank you for your contribution to help fight mesothelioma and asbestos-related cancers,” Dr. Michael Harbut, co-director of the National Center for Vermiculite and Asbestos-Related Cancers at Karmanos, told the group. “But I have to tell you, the number of cancer centers around the country doing this kind of work is declining; it’s really getting critical. We’re looking at closing our doors without additional funding in the next few months.”

The Karmanos Center serves as a preferred magnet center for asbestosis treatment for Heat and Frost Insulator workers in the International Union’s Central States region, which includes Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia.

Mesothelioma is associated with occupational asbestos exposure. According to the American Cancer Society, asbestos is a group of minerals that occur naturally as bundles of fibers. People are exposed to asbestos mainly by inhaling fibers in the air they breathe. These fibers may irritate the cells in the lung or pleura and eventually cause lung cancer or mesothelioma. It is a deadly disease with no effective treatment because of its high resistance to chemo-radiotherapy.

Research is ongoing at Karmanos through the collection of “bio-markers” isolated in cancer victims’ blood and urine. By studying auto-antibodies, the goal is to help patients determine if they’re at risk for acquiring an asbestos-related disease.

Karmanos says that asbestos exposures from 20 to 50 years ago are killing up to 10,000 Americans each year. The Journal of the American Medical Association reports that even today, an estimated 1.3 million construction workers and general industry workers are exposed to asbestos.

For the past several years, unions and contractors with the Heat and Frost Insulators have been carrying the water for the rest of the building trades in raising money for mesothelioma research and treatment. Now, with funds running low and time, Heat and Frost Insulators International Vice President Greg Revard, a member of the Breath of Life Foundation, said it’s time for other unions, contractors and even asbestos attorneys to step up and contribute to research in asbestos-related cancer.

“Nearly everyone in our trade especially, but really all the trades has a family member or knows someone who is affected by asbestosis or mesothelioma,” Revard said. “So we’re really looking for other trades, contractors, associations and attorneys to step up with contributions to help keep this program going.”

THE BREATH OF LIFE FOUNDATION, comprised of labor and management representatives in Michigan and several other states, on April 5 presented $75,000