The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, April 20, 2018

Insulators urge: 'Unite for a Cure' for mesothelioma

By The Building Tradesman

Battling the deadly scourge of mesothelioma and other occupational lung diseases, was the topic of a two-day symposium last month put on by the Heat and Frost Insulators International in Florida.  While these diseases pose a grave risk to all constructions workers, the insulators and asbestos workers have the highest exposure rate and, unfortunately, the highest mortality rate.  

Many Michigan based local unions affiliated with the Heat and Frost International, such as Locals 25, 47 and 207, are strong supporters of fundraising efforts that cover the cost of research, data collection and even treatment for those afflicted with this deadly disease. 

Currently there is no cure for mesothelioma – prevention is the only viable option.  Interestingly, asbestos, the main known cause of mesothelioma, is still not illegal, contrary to popular belief.  The use of asbestos in construction has been reduced significantly, mainly due to private litigation, but it is still present in older buildings, especially industrial sites undergoing renovation.  Michigan’s heavy industrial base poses an especially high risk to all construction workers, when doing renovation, or even new construction work.

This symposium brought together medical researchers from all over the United States and Canada, top surgeons and clinical doctors treating mesothelioma patients.  Even a handful of politicians attended, to make them aware of the issues faced by working men and women exposed to asbestos and those that contract work related diseases like mesothelioma.  

Buddy McCourt, the General President of the Heat and Frost Insulators, opened the symposium by urging all present to network together in order to share their knowledge and find a cure sooner, rather than later.  General Secretary-Treasurer Gregory Revard, who hails from Heat and Frost Insulators Local 47, also spoke at the symposium and described his extended family’s long battle with this disease, since many of his siblings and relatives worked as insulators, or are still active in the trade.

Spearheading the research in Michigan is Dr. Michael Harbut, a Wayne State professor, who treats mesothelioma patients at Providence Hospital.  Dr. Harbut has been very active in both the research and clinical treatment of work related diseases, especially mesothelioma.  Efforts to coordinate both treatment and research at various universities and hospitals to come up with a cure and better treatment options, was the topic of Dr. Harbut’s presentation.  A number of other researchers and treating physicians also presented their work on this topic.

Attorney John Tesija also spoke at the symposium, discussing not only legal issues faced by mesothelioma victims, such as health insurance coverage, but also addressing the work done by the Breath of Life Foundation. Tesija is a trustee on the Breath of Life Board, as is Revard, who was instrumental in establishing that foundation and champions its ongoing work.  Both speakers impressed the attendees to network research and treatment efforts to bring us closer to a cure.  

In addition to supporting Dr. Harbut’s research into mesothelioma, the Breath of Life Foundation has reached out to other similar organizations in an effort to pool their resources and be more effective in tackling this silent killer, facing all of the building trades.  With expanded networks that go beyond just the insulators and asbestos workers, it is hoped that a cure will be found sooner, to keep many more working men and women from being afflicted.  The foundation’s motto is “Unite for a Cure” which was how the symposium closed, asking all attendees to work together in finding a cure for mesothelioma. 

WAYNE STATE University Professor Dr. Michael Harbut, one of the nation's foremost experts on mesothelioma research, addresses the conference. With him are (l-r) Heat and Frost Insulators General President Bud McCourt and General Secretary-Treasurer Greg Revard