There's a more fatal scourge working quietly and killing Americans in the age of terrorist acts and mass shootings: work-related illness, a bigger killer than guns today.
The government estimated that work-related disease kills 50,000 every year, compared to guns that take over 30,000 lives. Data showed that hundreds of thousands more individuals falling ill to job-related toxic exposures.
Occupational disease emerged as the bigger killer despite lacking the "macabre drama" of mass killings or with the deaths acknowledged only by families and loved ones, according to the "Unequal Risk" series put out by nonprofit investigative journalism group Center for Public Integrity.
While these work-related illnesses are preventable, they are found to be legally sanctioned by the U.S. government. "[It] has made the conscious decision to treat workers more callously than the general public when it comes to protection against toxics," stated the report.
The center also criticized the Occupational Safety and Health Administration — the very agency tasked to regulate job-related dangers — as well as the Congress, White House, and industry for people's lack of protection in the workplace.
'I'm Not Going To Be The Last Guy'
Kris Penny, a 39-year-old Florida resident, is dying of mesothelioma, an asbestos-related form of cancer. He believed his asbestos exposure traces back to installing fiber-optic cable a bit over a decade ago – with no precautions given to him.
"I'm not going to be the last guy this happens to, I can promise you," he told the center one day before undergoing radical surgery in Baltimore back in August.
Former security guards in the country's nuclear weapons complex are also ailing and angry, as they felt wrongly denied for their illness claims by a federal compensation program due to flawed tries at reconstructing radiation doses.
The 15-year-old program of the Congress, as run by the labor department, rejected nearly two-thirds of claims in which reconstructions of radiation doses were done.
"We were non-people," recalled 71-year-old Paul Brogdon, who guarded the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant by the tail end of the Cold War. They watched cylinders of highly enriched uranium at close distance with no protective gear provided to other workers.
Brogdon is now sick with prostate cancer along with eight other former guards, all of them blaming radiation exposures at the facility.
Compensating The Victims
The affliction does not end with the disease, as victims still have to fight their way through state or federal compensation platforms or go to court.
Asbestos use is still partly legal in the U.S. despite being banned in over 50 countries. A relatively modest level of 400 metric tons was used last year, but there could be more lingering in infrastructure.
"Similar to gun violence, many people have become numb and complacent about asbestos," said Linda Reinstein, Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization CEO and co-founder, whose husband perished from mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma victims are currently fighting a bill against "false or exaggerated" asbestos trust claims, where claimants would be required to reveal personal information such as their Social Security number or diagnosis.
According to them, the true motive behind the bill is not to stunt a fraud epidemic, but to delay claims to outlive the victims.
In a February letter to Congress, nine widows and patients mourned that they are treated "like criminals rather than innocent victims of corporate deceit."