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Whenever I meet someone new, whether through my volunteer work or advocacy work in Washington D.C., they are almost always surprised that asbestos is not banned, and is still being imported and used today. I’ve learned that many people just assumed that it was banned back in the 1980s when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) introduced legislation that would ban nearly all uses of the toxin. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize that law was overturned just a few years later, so asbestos is still legal to use today in certain products.
At one time, the dangers of asbestos were widely acknowledged, but that sense of danger in working around or even being around the toxin has seemed to fade in recent years. Various examples of this can be seen by simply searching social media, like the hashtag asbestos on Instagram and Tumblr or even looking at Facebook comments. You find everything from the pro asbestos people to kids skateboarding in abandoned dusty warehouses that once processed or contained asbestos. A quick search will also reveal many asbestos removal memes around the need to have the toxin removed or how it can cause deadly diseases like mesothelioma. There is almost a sense of levity surrounding it.
For those of us who have had their lives irrevocably changed by asbestos exposure, these jokes or situations that make light of exposure are like a kick in the gut. Recently a couple of instances have come up making light of asbestos exposure and mesothelioma. Many in the asbestos-disease community did not find it remotely funny – and in fact were rather insulted by it!
Asbestos Memes and Mesothelioma Jokes
One of the most recent “jokes” that caught the mesothelioma community by surprise was an ad by Snickers on the back of the most recent Sports Illustrated 2018 Swimsuit Issue. Snickers has their long-running campaign that states “You’re not you when you’re hungry.” This latest ad showed how Swimsuit issue editors come up with bad ideas when they are hungry. Someone thought it was a good idea to depict a woman in full hazmat gear and respirator with a bikini over it, titled “Goddess of Asbestos Removal.”
I didn’t find it funny or sexy. I found it in extremely bad taste. Again, this ad just shows how asbestos is proving to be a punchline in popular culture today.
Perhaps the instance that ruffled the most feathers was a skit on Saturday Night Live. The popular news segment, Weekend Update, is usually full of satire and snark, but when does it go too far? The character Stefan came on and was talking about hot nightlife spots throughout NYC for St. Patrick’s Day weekend.
Near the end of the skit, he speaks of a haunted hospice littered with a “sexy form of asbestos” that causes something called “Me-so-horny-oma.” Yeah, I didn’t think it was remotely funny. This skit just further proves that asbestos and mesothelioma often aren’t taken seriously.
They don’t mention that some 10,000 – 15,000 people die each year from asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, and ovarian cancer, just to name a few. They don’t mention that mesothelioma is such an aggressive cancer that most patients are only given a year, or even less, to live after diagnosis. They don’t mention that millions of people are still exposed to asbestos each year, and may face these deadly diseases decades later.
No More Mesothelioma or Asbestos Memes
I understand both instances were satire and meant to be funny. But I find nothing funny about asbestos, a substance that has killed thousands of people who were doing nothing more than trying to provide for their families. Some, like myself, got sick from the simple act of giving a loved one a hug when they came home from work.
So you’ll have to pardon me that I find it in poor taste to make light of something that lurks silently in the body, until one day, cancer starts to form. For many mesothelioma patients, this rare cancer goes on undetected for years until it is too late for curative treatment.
My apologies for not laughing at a joke about asbestos that has killed many of my friends, left families without their mother, father, son, or daughter. In fact, I actually find it offensive to call asbestos “funny” or “sexy” and give the results a glib name like “me-so-horny-oma.” Nope, not funny at all.
I hope this trend in joking about asbestos is short lived and the serious nature of what it really is and does comes back into focus. No one should have to go through what I had to do to live to raise my daughter. After all, we don’t poke fun at the causes of leukemia or lymphoma or breast cancer, but then again, nothing is funny about cancer, so this should be no different.