Haider Zahabi" />
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Sunday, September 24, 2023

Guest Commentary

Asbestos prolongs Iraqis’ suffering post-war

As a child growing up in Iraq, I lived through the end of the Iran-Iraq war and the conflict that began in 2003.

I saw buildings and cars blown up on a daily basis. I remembered how the dust and debris from these buildings and the thick smoke from burning oil refineries made breathing nearly impossible.

As I grew, I began to see people getting sick. I saw many older people coughing and having trouble breathing even when the air seemed clear. I figured it was due to age. As an adult, I discovered that these people were both getting old and sick. These people were among the thousands who suffer from mesothelioma and other cancers caused by materials like asbestos.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring substance that is processed into a fire-resistant fibrous structure with great thermal insulation properties and high tensile strength. Builders used asbestos in floor tiles, insulation, shingles and other items used in home construction in Iraq.

It was the asbestos in the building materials that were making many Iraqis sick.

When the buildings and structures they lived in or around were destroyed from bombings, the deadly asbestos fibers became airborne. People were unaware that something as simple as breathing would kill them later as the fibers embedded themselves into the lungs.

The worst part is it was not just older people that were getting sick, but also middle-aged adults like my best friend’s uncle who was 40. I realized many people died, and got sick, because builders and manufacturers did not and will not stop using materials such as asbestos despite knowing the dangers.

This knowledge pushed me to get an education in which I could make a difference. I knew I could be an engineer and work to make safe options for people.

While I cannot change the past, I can continue my education, help educate the future and raise awareness of the effects of asbestos and carcinogens. I want to educate countries that have lax building codes and manufacturing regulations. People all over the world deserve to be educated and made aware of the dangers.

They need to understand how to protect themselves.

By becoming an engineer, I can ensure that the company I work for considers the effects these chemicals and materials have on people. I want to be able to look at the people who utilize my products or inhabit the buildings I help build.

I do not ever want to know that I cut corners and saved money at the risk of someone’s health. I want to be able to tell people who are suffering and their families that I will work hard to make sure that future generations will not share this experience.

I want them to know that I will fight for them.

Mesothelioma is a preventable disease that people should never have to contract. This disease can be eradicated through education and the institution of laws to protect the innocent. I want to see restrictions implemented on parties that have failed to protect their people.

I want people to understand how devastating mesothelioma is to families. The public needs to understand that watching a family member suffer through a preventable disease is both heartbreaking and devastating.

Haider Zahabi is a mechanical engineering student and can be contacted at [email protected]

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