Monday, May 10, 2004

Asbestos: Back In The Workplace

"You know what I want? I want my husband back," Cheryl Blevins said. "I just want us to grow old and enjoy our grandkids. I want him back the way he was before he got sick. But I don't see that happening."
Meanwhile, away from the court rooms and the halls of Congress, a school maintenance worker in Texas is paying the ultimate price of the industry's criminal negligence:
The telltale white patches covered his left lung.

As Randall Blevins was recovering from surgery, doctors told his wife that the patches indicated exposure to significant amounts of asbestos. Presumably, they said, the right lung was the same.

That was May 2002, 25 years after Blevins began working as a heating and air-conditioning technician for the Fort Worth school district. He fixed boilers and repaired pipes -- products often encased in asbestos.

Blevins, 50, believes that his lung disease stemmed from his work for the district because he knows of no other contact with asbestos dust.

From 1977, when he was hired, until about 1982, when the district stepped up its precautions, he handled asbestos without thinking. Blevins said he and the district's other boiler-room workers hit it with their wrenches and ripped it off pipes with their bare hands while crawling under buildings. Each time, the white shards cascaded into their hair, eyes, noses and mouths.


Blevins' situation is dire. He has lost his school district insurance. He has been unable to find a doctor who will take workers compensation insurance and provide the long-term monitoring that he needs.

On April 21, Blevins filed a lawsuit in state district court against a long list of asbestos-product manufacturers in a last-ditch effort to find some way to pay his escalating medical bills.

Blevins' body and spirit are broken. Once a 250-pound man who could perform one-arm pushups, he can no longer lift his 17-pound grandson.