New Discovery: Asbestos Used in Byzantine Art

Asbestos fiberWhen we think of asbestos today, we often think of shipyards, construction sites, the automotive industry, and many other places the material was used merely decades ago. However, asbestos has a much longer history. Recent findings reported by LiveScience are now linking asbestos use to Byzantine artwork.

A new discovery from UCLA researchers reveals that Byzantine monks used asbestos in the 12th century as a coating for plaster beneath wall paintings. They found chrysotile, also known as white asbestos, in Cyprus at Enkleistra of St. Neophytos, a Byzantine monastery. By using the white asbestos in the plaster coating, the artist achieved a desirable, smooth surface for painting on the wall.

Researchers were not looking for asbestos, but made this discovery while studying the painting. They now plan to conduct further research into other artwork at the monastery and revisit other sites in Cyprus to see if the asbestos use was consistent. They hope to understand why the asbestos was used in this fashion during the time period.

Asbestos use is actually quite ancient and can be dated back 4,500 years to a time when it was mixed with clay to reinforce pottery. It has also been found in textiles dated 2,000 years ago that were used to make fireproof napkins. Asbestos made a comeback as a popular material in late 19th century industrial products, and it was used in construction for decades.

Due to the historical use of asbestos and its natural occurrence in soil, a countless number of people have been exposed to these fibers. Asbestos is a known carcinogenic material, and exposure is linked to the development of diseases, including mesothelioma, one of the most aggressive and deadly cancers. The latency period between asbestos exposure and development of mesothelioma ranges between 20-50 years, meaning that patients today were exposed decades ago, and patients of tomorrow have likely already been exposed.

Approximately 3,500 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year, and there is currently no cure. The Meso Foundation is the only non-government funder of peer-reviewed scientific research focused on prevention, early detection, development of effective treatments, and, ultimately, a cure for mesothelioma. You can learn more about this cancer and the asbestos-mesothelioma link at curemeso.org.

WTC Health Program Expands Coverage to Include Pentagon

PentagonThe World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program recently extended its coverage to include rescue, recovery, and clean-up workers who served at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 during and after the terrorist attacks. The Program provides free medical screenings and treatment for health issues (including mesothelioma) related to exposures from the September 11th attacks.

The Pentagon was originally built in 1942 with asbestos-containing materials. In 1998, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began a “greening” of the building, which included the removal of hazardous debris and materials – asbestos included. The renovations were changed to a “monumental rebuilding” of the Pentagon following the 2001 attacks.

Due in part to the direct advocacy of the Meso Foundation and community, mesothelioma became a disease eligible for coverage under the WTC Health Program in 2012. Last year, the Foundation presented the Bruce Vento Hope Builder awards to the Senators of New York and the Congressional Representatives of New York City who worked together to ensure mesothelioma and other cancers were made eligible for coverage.

More information about the history of the WTC Health Program and the involvement of the Meso Foundation, can be found in the blog post September 11 and Mesothelioma: Working to Protect those Exposed to Asbestos from Cancer and Mesothelioma.

More information about the awards presented to the New York Members of Congress can be found in the blog post Senator Chuck Schumer Thanks the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation for its Work.

Mesothelioma Mobilization in Britain

Mary and the Lord Mayor of Birmingham

Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Cllr Mike Leddy and Mary Hesdorffer, NP Executive Director of the Meso Foundation

by Laurie Kazan-Allen

The publication of an article entitled “Mesothelioma – The British Disease” in mid-June, 2013 set the tone for a summer of legislative, political, and public mobilization on asbestos. As groups representing asbestos victims lobbied politicians over the unfairness of provisions in the Mesothelioma Bill, members of the House of Lords tabled amendments to address the woeful lack of British funding for mesothelioma research. Lord Alton proposed that a levy be imposed on the insurance industry to fund medical research into mesothelioma; unfortunately, this amendment was defeated during a heated debate in the House of Lords. After the summer recess, the Bill will go to the House of Commons.

The importance of research funds and a coordinated research strategy were highlighted on July 3, 2013 in a presentation made by Mary Hesdorffer, NP Executive Director of the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (Meso Foundation) to the Parliamentary Asbestos Sub-Group during its annual seminar in the House of Commons. Mary’s participation at this high-level Westminster event was warmly received as was the input by her colleague Dr. Daniel Sterman from the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center. Ms. Hesdorffer, NP and Dr. Sterman were the first American medical experts to take part in this event which has been a fixture of the Parliamentary calendar for well over a decade.

Commenting on her experience, Ms. Hesdorffer said:

“I was delighted to have this opportunity to discuss in Parliament the role of government as well as private sector funding in spurring innovative research to end the suffering caused by mesothelioma. All opportunities to collaborate and confer on the needs of those affected by mesothelioma are most welcome and in light of the increasing number of cases being diagnosed worldwide, we need to explore ways in which we can work more closely together on this global pandemic.”

By good luck and advanced planning, Mary and Dan were able to take part in Action Mesothelioma Day (AMD) events on July 5 in Birmingham and Liverpool. AMD is marked by asbestos victims groups, cancer charities, and civic officials throughout the country and has become a focal point for efforts to raise research funds and public awareness of mesothelioma, a disease killing more than 2,000 British citizens every year. It was a privilege to join Mary in Birmingham for the activities mounted by Asbestos Support West Midlands. The appeal for mesothelioma research funds by the Birmingham group raised £4,500!

Speaking about the day’s events, Doug Jewell, Coordinator of Asbestos Support West Midlands, commented:

“It seemed that Mary and Laurie brought the good weather with them when they came to Birmingham. After the 2012 storms, it was great to be able to be able to mark Action Mesothelioma Day under blue skies. The speakers’ input during the official segment of the program was much appreciated by our friends and colleagues, most of whose lives have been impacted by mesothelioma. There was a great deal of interest in Mary’s discussion of the clinical trials and new drugs being used in the US and UK with many people following up on information she presented in the days after the seminar.”

In the aftermath of AMD, work continues by mesothelioma sufferers and asbestos victims’ groups to raise awareness of a deadly epidemic that shows no signs of abating. Research means hope and it was a message of hope that Mary and Dan so ably transmitted during the time they spent with us in the UK.

About Laurie Kazan-Allen

Ms. Laurie Kazan-Allen has been researching, writing and campaigning on asbestos issues for more than twenty years. The British Asbestos Newsletter, the quarterly publication she founded in 1990, is widely regarded as one of the most authoritative contemporary sources of information by the UK community of asbestos activists. In collaboration with international colleagues, in 1999 she established The International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS). As the IBAS Coordinator she has organized and/or participated in asbestos events on six continents, amongst the most recent of which was an asbestos hearing at the European Parliament. 

As an adviser to the UK All Party Parliamentary Asbestos Sub-Group, Ms. Kazan-Allen helps organize the annual Parliamentary asbestos seminar. Kazan-Allen has written prolifically about asbestos issues in 85+ issues of the British Asbestos Newsletter and in IBAS publications such as Eternit and the Great Asbestos Trial, Report on the Asian Asbestos Conference 2009, India’s Asbestos Time Bomb and Killing the Future – Asbestos Use in Asia. These and other texts can be accessed at www.britishasbestosnewsletter.org and www.ibasecretariat.org

Oklahoma Tornados: The Continued Threat of Existing Asbestos in Our Homes

asbestos_smallMeso warrior, Liz VanZandt of Oklahoma, is acutely aware of the recent devastation from the tornados in Moore, Oklahoma. “I watched as people were climbing through the rubble in search of loved ones, pets and personal items left behind from the tornado,” she said. As a mesothelioma survivor, her thoughts go immediately to the asbestos that the tornados released into the air. Natural disasters, like the tornados in Moore, disturb existing asbestos-containing materials and they become airborne. We know that any exposure to asbestos can lead to mesothelioma, so anyone present at the site of the tornados is at risk for developing mesothelioma.

Ms. VanZandt knows this firsthand, saying “I wept when the thought came to my mind, long after they rebuild and the cameras are gone, the asbestos that they are in the midst of will most likely make some of them ill. It will be like getting hit all over.”

Unfortunately, these natural disasters and national tragedies (like the September 11th terrorists attacks) will continue to disturb the existing asbestos in our environment for years to come. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that asbestos still exists in 35 million homes in the United States, and that there are asbestos containing materials in most of the nation’s approximately 107,000 primary and secondary schools and 733,000 public and commercial buildings.[i]

The question remains, what will happen to the victims and first responders that are exposed to asbestos now, and develop mesothelioma 10-50 years down the road? The emergency funds provided by the Federal and State governments are not going to be available to them. ”I know the immediate needs have to be met and I am grateful this is being addressed. The long term needs should be acknowledged by our government.”

Unfortunately, even if asbestos were banned today, the existing threat remains. For all those who have been exposed in the past and will be exposed in the future, research to find better treatments and a cure for mesothelioma is the only way to ensure that asbestos becomes less dangerous and deadly.


[i] http://www.epa.gov/region4/air/asbestos/inform.htm Accessed May 30, 2013.

Toxic Substance Champion Senator Frank Lautenberg Dies at 89

lautenbergAsbestos safety champion Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, (D-NJ), died Monday morning at the age of 89, according to The Bergen Record. He served in Congress from 1982 to 2001, and again from 2003 to the time of his death. One of his notable achievements was his unwavering effort to reform the dated Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to provide the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with the authority to protect Americans from harmful chemicals, including mesothelioma-causing asbestos, since 2005.

Senator Lautenberg took the lead on reforming the dated TSCA to rapidly reduce exposure to toxic chemicals like asbestos, which is still used in some building and automotive materials. Asbestos fibers can be released into the air during demolition of buildings constructed with asbestos products, along highways from disintegration of brake pads, and near facilities where asbestos products are manufactured.

On April 10, 2013, the late Senator Lautenberg reintroduced the Safe Chemicals Act which was cosponsored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). The Safe Chemicals Act would require chemical companies to demonstrate the safety of industrial chemicals and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to evaluate safety based on the best available science.

In May, Senator Lautenberg had a breakthrough when a bipartisan compromise bill, the Chemical Safety Act, was jointly unveiled with David Vitter (D-LA) was unveiled. The Chemical Safety Act would give the EPA the necessary authority to take action on unsafe chemicals, like asbestos. This can range from labeling requirements to the full phase-out or ban of a chemical. While not as stringent as the Safe Chemicals Act introduced in April, the Chemical Safety Act has support from select Republicans.

The mesothelioma community applauds Senator Lautenberg’s unfailing dedication to stand up for mesothelioma patients and champion the reform of the TSCA; and hopes that Congress will honor his legacy by passing legislation to reform the dated TSCA.

To learn more about the Safe Chemicals Act search Thomas.gov for S. 696

To learn more about the Chemical Safety Act, search Thomas.gov for S. 1009