Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Asbestos: It's not just the old exposures

The book reviews of Andrew Schneider's book, An Air That Kills, makes clear, even as we deal with asbestos related disease caused by exposures that occurred decades ago, new exposures to asbestos are still wreaking havoc. Here is yet another story:
When Juan Jimenez traveled from Guatemala to Brooklyn in the 1990s, his reasons were simple: He wanted to be near his brother, Jose, and to make some money.

He earned $4.50 an hour when he started as a general laborer at Atlas Knitting, a now-defunct garment company near the Brooklyn Navy Yard. With the cash from his 70-hour workweeks, he rented a $400-a-month walk-up apartment and eked out a modest existence.

Then, in December 2000, the 33-year-old undocumented immigrant unknowingly put his health — and perhaps even his life — on the line.

In what federal and city investigators said was one of the most egregious incidents of its kind, Jimenez, his brother, Jose, 28, and several more Guatemalan immigrants were recklessly exposed to asbestos when their employer ordered them to use knives or scissors and their hands to remove crumbling insulation from heating pipes in the multistory Prince Street building where the garment company and other businesses were located.

The workers had nothing more than handkerchiefs and pieces of cloth to cover their faces as they pulled more than 2,000 linear feet of aging asbestos from pipes over several days that December.
And, as usual, it's immigrant workers who face the worst
For years, immigrant workers appear to have borne the brunt of illegal asbestos removal. In Guatemala, Equador and Poland, there are many repatriated migrants feeling the effects of asbestosis they actually contracted in the United States, said Lowell Peterson, a Manhattan attorney who represents Local 78 of the Asbestos, Lead and Hazardous Waste Laborers union.
The owners of the business, Marvin and Isaac Rubenstein, were convicted in October 2002 and went to prison ten days ago.