CWA Looks to Expand Asbestos Tests in 1998

As surprisingly high incidences of asbestos-related disease continue to be uncovered among long-time active and retired CWA members, the union is mapping plans to expand testing in 1998.

"We'll have mobile vans in the San Antonio, Corpus Christi and Harlingen areas," said CWA Executive Vice President M.E. Nichols, who has overall responsibility for safety and health matters. Free medical surveillance testing will be offered in three more areas of Texas next January.

Meanwhile, at CWA News press time, he and CWA OSH director David LeGrande were still awaiting results of more than 700 examinations in October and November in the Texas cities of Waco, Temple, Austin, Houston, Beaumont, Dallas, Fort Worth and Tyler.

Connie Glover, editor of CWA Local 6215's newspaper in Dallas, had a chance to observe the testing process while the mobile van was in her area on Oct. 7 and 8.

"The procedure was quite simple, although many who entered didn't know what to expect.

Members entered apprehensive but came out feeling calm...It was a chance for many to see people they hadn't seen in years. It was a lot like a reunion. Lots of hugs, reminiscent of the good times everyone has at our Christmas dinner and annual picnic," Glover reports.

When it was all over, she said that 196 current and retired members, ranging in age from the mid 40's to 87, were tested.

Nichols and LeGrande have said that earlier testing among veteran CWA members employed in telephone craft, printing and other industries have turned up abnormally high readings of asbestos-related disease.

In the general population, experts say they would not expect to find positive results in more than one person in 100. However, testing among CWA members has turned up alarming rates, LeGrande said.

In one screening in Houston, for example, 23 of 57 active or retired members (or 40 percent) showed signs of asbestosis or other asbestos-related health problems. All came out of the telecommunications industry.

Earlier, in Alabama, the rate was 24 percent among 500 telecommunications and printing industry participants, and, in a smaller testing in Washington, D.C., a 17-percent rate of asbestos-related disease was found.

"We're testing a relatively narrow group of long-term workers," LeGrande says, because asbestos-related health problems normally don't show up for two decades or more.

CWA members, active or retired, who first entered the telecommunications industry in any outside, central office or garage mechanic title; or at any industrial location, such as a paper mill, shipyard or construction site, or printing industry veterans whose seniority dates back to 1968 or earlier are encouraged to participate.

The screening, which is generally not covered under normal health plans, is being made available free of charge to qualified CWA members or retired members. The economics of the project require screening at least 40 persons a day, while the daily maximum is 100, LeGrande said.