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McLean County Museum of History

Illinois Museum Honors Workers Who Died from Asbestos Exposure

asbestos exposureAll over the world, survivors of asbestos exposure often feel anger toward the irresponsible parties whose actions caused them to develop deadly diseases. It’s never a good idea to hold these feelings inside. If you want to share your story with the public, you can find a way.

In Illinois, the residents of McLean County are remembering how one factory devastated the area with asbestos exposure. They found a particularly constructive way to vent their anger and frustrations: In preparation for a 2015 opening, organizers of the McLean County Museum of History are curating an exhibit titled “A Deadly Deception: The Asbestos Tragedy in McLean County.”

Project acknowledges tragedy while memorializing victims
One of the highlights of the exhibit is the history of the Union Asbestos and Rubber Co., or UNARCO. The plant, located in Bloomington, was operational between 1951 and 1972. During this time, more than 100 employees developed asbestosis, which was likely a consequence of occupational exposure to asbestos.

Ron Thacker, a minister who used to work at UNARCO, told The Pantagraph that the company required workers to undergo annual chest X-rays. He initially thought UNARCO was being helpful to employees, but he eventually realized that once the company found signs of illness in workers, it would find a way to let them go.

Thacker himself used to process asbestos through a grinder. His father and brother both used to work at the plant as well. Thacker lost his father to asbestosis in 1977, followed by his brother in 1981, who had the same disease.

In 2007, Thacker was also diagnosed with asbestosis. That year, he prayed that if he lived a little longer, he would share his story with the world. Today, he’s working with Mike Matejka, a guest curator at the McLean County Museum of History. For the last three years, Matejka has been organizing the asbestos exhibit and gathering the names of UNARCO workers who died from occupational asbestos exposure.

Here’s what Matejka told the news source about his work:

“It’s a catastrophe that didn’t happen just one day; there have been multiple slow deaths over decades of intensive suffering. This exhibit is important to remind ourselves … to honor the workers and families; to look at the larger social questions … to ask what’s still going on out there now with the emerging technology …”

So far, Matejka has gotten hold of 104 names, and plans to create collage books to honor each victim.

Disease claims nearly 1,400 lives every year
Asbestosis is just one deadly disease related to asbestos. Every year, around 1,398 individuals in the U.S. succumb to this illness. Unlike malignant pleural mesothelioma, which affects the lining of the lungs, asbestosis strikes the lungs themselves. Symptoms include pain and tightness of the chest, coughing, difficulty breathing, clubbing of the fingers and nail abnormalities.

Much like mesothelioma, there is no cure for asbestosis.

The callousness that UNARCO showed toward its workers is disgusting. If you feel you’ve been hurt in a similar way, remember that you have a right to be heard, and my partners and I at Kazan Law are more than happy to make sure that you have a voice. Once we share your truth with the world, no one can take that away from you.

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