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Former Tennessee State Senator Ray Albright was exposed to airborne asbestos four decades ago and now struggles with mesothelioma cancer as a result. Albright was a Chattanooga delegation member in the Tennessee General Assembly for 26 years.
“Asbestos was the cause of this. And, you don’t know it, but forty years later, you find out what you were exposed to was extremely dangerous,” said Albright.
The asbestos exposure occurred when he worked at Combustion Engineering for 19 years starting in 1953. There he made covers for boilers by cutting steel with a band saw. This caused asbestos-containing dust to be released into the air.
“It was so thick, you couldn’t see ten feet in front of you, hardly,” said Albright. But Albright and other workers were not informed of the hazardous substance. However, he believes Combustion’s management knew about its presence and its dangers.
Combustion could get fined a large sum of money for exposing Albright without protection per current asbestos laws and regulations. Albright is suing Combustion like many other workers before him.
“They’re in enjoyment of retirement, enjoying their grandkids and traveling, or that’s their ideas, typically. Then they get hit with that type of diagnosis,” said Albright’s lawyer.
Chattanooga is known to have many asbestos cases like Albright’s with its history as a major railroad hub and industrial and manufacturing center. By the 1930s, the city was known as the "Dynamo of Dixie," inspiring the 1941 Glenn Miller big-band swing song "Chattanooga Choo Choo."
“Chattanooga is an older city. So older cities are going to have higher amounts of asbestos present,” said removal expert David Bashor at Affinity Environmental Group.
In 1969, the federal government determined that Chattanooga's air was the dirtiest in the nation because of the industrial pollutants. Today, Chattanooga’s economy includes a diversified and growing mix of manufacturing and service industries.
“Most of the city’s older structures have it [asbestos],” according to Bashor. “Pretty much from the 20s through the 70s, almost all the buildings had some form of asbestos in them. Almost always.”
“There’s no cure for what I have. And you’re going to die. It’s just a matter of time,” said Albright. “I planned my life, my wife and I did, to have a good life. A life that we wouldn’t have any problem. It just doesn’t work out.”
According to Albright’s doctor, the former senator has about six more months to live due to his mesothelioma cancer.