By: Haider F. Zahabi
As a child growing up in Iraq, I lived through the end of the Iran and Iraq war as well as the American and Iraq war. I can remember seeing buildings and cars blown up on a daily basis. I can remember the dust and debris from these buildings that filled the air. I remember the thick smoke from burning oil refineries that made breathing nearly impossible. As I grew I began to see more and more people getting sick. I saw many older men and women coughing and having trouble breathing even when the air seemed clear. I observed people walking around in pain and suffering. I figured they were getting old. As an adult, I discovered that these people were not just getting old but in fact were very sick. These people were among the thousands of people who are sick from mesothelioma and other cancers caused by such materials as asbestos.
During geology class I learned that asbestos is a naturally occurring substance that is processed into a fire resistant fibrous structure with great thermal insulation properties and high tensile strength that many manufacturers and home builders liked to use. Many builders used asbestos in floor tiles, insulation, shingles, cement and many other items used in home construction in Iraq. It was the asbestos in the building materials that were making many of the Iraqis I saw sick. When the buildings and structures they lived in or around were destroyed from bombings, the deadly asbestos became airborne. The people would walk around inhaling the deadly asbestos fibers. Many of these people were unaware that something as simple as breathing would kill them later. As people aged the fibers that embedded themselves in the lungs of these innocent people began to make them sick. The worst part is it was not just older people that were getting sick; it was middle age adults like my best friend’s uncle who was only 40 years old. What I realized was many people died and are getting sick because builders and manufacturers did not and will not stop using such materials such as asbestos despite knowing the dangers. This knowledge pushed me to go to school to get an education in which I could make a difference. I knew I could not be a doctor or a scientist but 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 deadly effects of asbestos and other carcinogens. I want to educate Americans and other 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. Furthermore, 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. Finally I want to be able to tell people who are suffering and their families that I will work hard to ensure that future generations will not have to experience what they have. I want them to know that I will fight for them.
Overall mesothelioma is a preventable disease that my country men and others should never have to experience. This disease can be eradicated through education and the institution of laws to protect the innocent. I do not want people to be afraid of the materials in their house. Additionally I want to see restrictions implemented in America, Iraq and other countries that have failed to protect their people. Furthermore I want people to understand how devastating a disease like mesothelioma is to families. The public needs to understand that watching a family member suffer through a preventable disease is not only heartbreaking but devastating.
To all people who are suffering or is a family member of someone who is suffering I would say, keep your head up. I cannot say that I personally know what you are going through but know there are people out there who care and will fight for you and your rights. I, along with many others, will work to improve laws that can help prevent this from happening again. Finally I would say you are in my prayers and will be there for you.
Haider F. Zahabi
My name is Haider Zahabi and I am from Baghdad, Iraq. I moved to the United States in 2012 and currently live in Houston, Texas. I have been working to get my Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering since 2013. In Iraq I worked with the U.S. military as an Interpreter in order to help build a positive relationship between Iraqis and Americans. I plan on getting my degree and making a positive impact in the world!!