Severe silicosis is a ghastly disease. Caused by prolonged inhalation of tiny sand particles, it slowly scars and contracts the lungs until the victim suffocates. A sandblaster who comes down with an acute case may need a lung transplant before he's 40. Severe asbestosis, which is caused by ~ inhaling minute, spearlike asbestos fibers, is just as bad. It has nearly identical symptoms, and it can lead to lung cancer or mesothelioma, the dreaded, inevitably fatal cancer of the lung lining.
Perhaps the only consolation in having one of these diseases is that you almost certainly won't get the other. The massive, protracted dust exposure required to come down with either makes diagnosit extremely rare for a worker to get both, even in their mildest forms. And despite their outward similarities, the two diseases are readily distinguishable on X-rays. A panel of four eminent occupational-disease experts agreed on these points in February testimony before a Senate committee. How, then, to account for this: Of 8,629 people diagnosed with silicosis now suing in federal court in Corpus Christi, 5,174-or 6O%-are “asbestosr etreads,”i .e., people who have previously filed claims for asbestos-related disease.
That anomaly turns out to be just one of many in the Corpus Christi case that sorely challenge medical explanation. At a hearing in February, U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack characterized the evidence before her as raising “great red flags of fraud,” and a federal grand jury in Manhattan is now looking into the situation, according to two people who have been subpoenaed