Airing the dirty laundry: New efforts to raise awareness of asbestos disease

A disease that claims more than 2,500 lives every year, as mesothelioma does, is – quite literally – a deadly serious threat.

Far too often, however, American popular culture either ignores the dangers of asbestos exposure or treats them in a caricatured way. Such a caricature occurred recently in a candy bar ad in the famous Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

Fortunately, there are also more substantive attempts to raise asbestos awareness. We will discuss one of those in this post, a documentary film by two cousins whose grandmother died of mesothelioma.

Swimsuit shenanigans

Last month, in Sports Illustrated’s famous (or infamous) swimsuit issue, an ad for Snickers’ candy bars featured an ironic parody of the usual flesh-flaunting model. The ad showed a blond woman wearing a full hazmat suit, with a bikini over it. She was also wearing a respirator.

The trying-hard-to-be-funny caption was “Goddesses of Asbestos Removal.” The attempted joke was that if the creators of the swimsuit issue didn’t have a Snickers, they would be too hungry to come up with a proper theme for the issue.

The toll of asbestos-related illness

People who are genuinely concerned about asbestos exposure reacted quickly to the outrageous premise. For example, the co-founder of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, Linda Reinstein (@Linda_ADAO), commented that the Snickers ad was so funny, she forgot to laugh.

Reinstein’s husband died of mesothelioma. Every year, about 15,000 people in the U.S. suffer the same fate from some form of asbestos-related disease. This includes mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer triggered by exposure to asbestos fibers.

Dirty Laundry documentary

Another reaction to the Snickers ad came from two cousins who are making a documentary film about asbestos exposure after losing their grandmother to mesothelioma. She had worked as a pipe insulator as an oil refinery for decades, with frequent and ongoing exposure to asbestos fibers.

The two cousins are named Conor B. Lewis and Zack Johnson. Lewis said he had mixed feelings about the ad, because the reality behind the joke is a terrible loss of life that needs to be better known.

Lewis and Johnson have been traveling the U.S. by bicycle, talking with people about the dangers of asbestos disease. Their documentary about this will be released this month.

The film is called Dirty Laundry, a title that Lewis said was inspired by a Don Henley song. But it carries a double meaning, referring also to the dark side of America’s long-running use of asbestos in so many products and processes.

What matters now

Dirty Laundry also works on another level as a title for a documentary about asbestos disease. This is because asbestos fibers are so potentially lethal that even relatives who wash the clothes of workers who have been exposed to asbestos fibers can suffer asbestos disease.


If you are concerned about the impact of asbestos exposure on a family member, or on yourself, it makes sense to learn more about your situation. As a law firm that serves people who have suffered asbestos-related disease, we know how important it is to air the dirty laundry of companies that make and use asbestos.

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