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Commentary: Is this the legacy we want?

I've lived the nightmare of life with cancer. I don't want that to be the legacy of my daughter's future.

For the last twelve and a half years, I have lived my life knowing that the cancer I was diagnosed with could come back at any time.


If that happens, I know my treatment options are very slim. To make matters even worse is knowing that the cancer I have is completely preventable.

On November 21, 2005, just three and a half months after the birth of my only child, I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. I was only 36 years old. Mesothelioma is almost always caused by asbestos exposure. Unfortunately, people often mistakenly think asbestos use was banned in the United States years ago, but the frustrating truth is that it isn't.

How can a substance known to cause various types of cancer and other terminal conditions not be banned? Asbestos is responsible for as many as 15,000 deaths per year, but is still legal in the United States and used in industrial applications to this day.

Since my diagnosis, I have dedicated my life to raising awareness and educating others about asbestos and the dangers it poses. It is maddening to see our government has not taken the necessary steps to actually ban it. The U.S. finally began addressing the issue again in 2016 while President Obama was in office, passing the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act which amends the decades old Toxic Substances Control Act.

Those fighting for an asbestos ban, including myself, were elated to learn that only a few months later the mineral was named one of the first 10 chemicals listed by the EPA for review. This is essentially the first step toward an eventual phase out, and even Obama himself mentioned the absurdity of not having asbestos banned when he signed the act.

So what happened? In short, the election happened. All of the momentum we were building to create a safer future for our kids came to a screeching halt when a man who extols the virtues of asbestos was elected, and then appointed an EPA administrator who was ambivalent, at best, when it came to his opinion on whether asbestos was dangerous or not. As someone who has lost so much to mesothelioma, including my left lung, the first two years of my daughter's life, and more friends than I care to count, I would beg to differ.

Scott Pruitt has shown his true colors during his short time with the EPA, and will do as the administration wants. He will slowly, but surely, dismantle the EPA piece by piece. His blatant disregard for ethics and responsible leadership are all the proof I need to know he is not the right person for this position.

My life has been forever changed and my daughter has to live with the fear of losing her mom because regulations were not in place when my dad worked in construction. He handled asbestos and would come home each day covered in a greyish white dust. His coat was the same one I would wear to feed my rabbits or go get the mail.

This innocent gesture of wearing my dad's asbestos-crusted coat put my life in danger 30 years later. Had a ban been in place or had regulations been a little more strict my life today could have been very different. My dad might still be alive and so much anger and heartache would have been avoided.

We are in severe danger of reversing decades of hard work. Chemical companies will be able to produce toxics with fewer regulations, our air and water are in danger of being polluted and the lives of many are hanging in the balance.

You might think I'm exaggerating, but I live life with one lung and I know what seemingly harmless environmental toxics can do. I've lived the nightmare of life with cancer. I don't want that to be the legacy of my daughter's future.

Heather Von St. James is a 12-year mesothelioma survivor, patient advocate, mom and wife living in Minnesota. Her mission is to educate people about asbestos exposure and raise awareness and funds for mesothelioma research.

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