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Anthrax And Asbestos: One Condemned, The Other Excused. Letter To John Stewart By Paul Zygielbaum


Mr. John Stewart
The Daily Show
Comedy Central

Dear Mr. Stewart,

I am a great fan of yours on the Daily Show. However, as much as I enjoyed your humor as host of the Oscars, I was disconcerted by your comment about asbestos. I know you've heard from others about this, but I feel that I must add my perspective as a survivor (so far) of mesothelioma.

I want you to join with asbestos-disease victims and activists in the battle against the forces that would continue this carnage. Your presence and reach would add awareness of the truth in an environment that suppresses media coverage of this issue.

I'm sure that your comment was intended as sarcastic, but I'm also sure that most of your audience missed the sarcasm. My own cancer was caused largely by exposure to chrysotile asbestos, what the industry loves to call the "good asbestos" (by way of creating a "promotable villain" in the words of Fatal Deception author Michael Bowker). The truth, as I think you know, is that there is no safe asbestos.

People like me are engaged in a century-long battle to stop the use of asbestos worldwide and the spread of asbestos-related diseases. Although there's been some progress overseas, there's been almost none in the US. Few Americans know that asbestos is still legal here, that it's still imported, and that it is likely still used in products on the American market. We don't know for sure about its uses, because there is no regulation or monitoring of the transport and use of this deadly toxin for commercial and military purposes. My wife and I, and many others, are working to help end this charade.

The hottest battleground in this ongoing war is currently the floor of the US Senate, where industry forces are trying to escape forever the responsibility for the mayhem and death that they've knowingly caused, and to maintain their freedom to keep doing the same with impunity. Their Senate Bill 852, the misnamed "Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act of 2005," is an assault on the health of Americans and on the Constitutional right of Americans to seek redress when wronged.

Asbestos kills a percentage of the people exposed to it. But asbestos is still intentionally being put into American products. European and other countries have found suitable substitutes for every single use of asbestos. Why have we not adopted these? Because continuing to use asbestos has been cheaper than investing in changing product designs and factory processes to accommodate substitutes. As long as corporations have been able to escape responsibility for asbestos-related deaths, it's been business as usual for them.

So let me make an analogy. Like asbestos, anthrax kills a percentage of the people exposed to it. Would any of us think of allowing anthrax to be put intentionally into American products? Would any of us think of protecting the interests of someone who would profit from doing so? Wouldn't we expect a very forceful response from government, from the public, from industry, if we were talking about anthrax instead of asbestos?

A few weeks ago, when Senate Bill 852 hit the floor of the Senate, I spoke at a press conference in the LBJ Room of the Capitol. I chose not to use the anthrax analogy there, as I did not want to risk being hauled from the building by overzealous guards. But this kind of language is what people need to hear, in order to understand how outrageous the attitude of our Government and industry is. Americans are incensed at the idea that some clandestine terrorist group might use weapons like anthrax against us, but our Government aids and abets American companies in the use of asbestos against the American people in the name of increased profits. This has to stop!

Please join with us in this battle. The lives of future generations and the rights of American citizens are at stake.

Paul S. Zygielbaum
Santa Rosa, CA