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Heather and Daughter

On our journey fighting for a toxin-free future, we meet inspiring people who drive home why toxin law reform is so vital. The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was passed in 1976 and has never been updated. As a result, tens of thousands of potentially harmful chemicals continue to be used without proper testing and without disclosure by the companies that produce them. We need change – not only for the protection of our families, but for the protection of our planet, as well.

Meet Heather Von St. James. In 2005, at the age of 36, she was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma and given just 15 months to live. Heather discovered that her childhood exposure to asbestos was the cause of this lung-based cancer. The diagnosis came only three months after giving birth to her daughter, and she knew that for her family, holding onto hope was her only option. Now an eight-year mesothelioma cancer survivor, she shares her story to help spread awareness: asbestos is still not banned in the US, and exposure to this toxic chemical is the number one cause of occupational cancer in our nation.

What does toxin-law reform mean to you?

I'm glad to see some movement in the right direction, but we still have so, so far to go. Since my cancer was caused by an environmental toxin, and it is still legal and imported by the tons, I'm in no way convinced things are happening fast enough. How many more people need to lose their lives or have their health deteriorate before we get laws in place that actually help people? I guess you could say that I want to see stricter laws on the books.

How do you help keep your family protected from toxic chemicals?

I never really cared before I had Lily - then all of the sudden, I realized I was in charge of his helpless little persons life, and the products I used around the house could harm her.. then I got sick. I'm very cautious about what we use as far as cleaning, laundry, basically, any household things. When I garden, I use only organic fertilizer, and no pesticides. I tend to plant things that keep bugs away naturally. It' s been a learning process. I also tend to buy organic or locally grown produce. I read labels a lot more and am cautious about what we eat and what is around our home. 

What steps can be taken to help in the fight against asbestos?

Call your government representatives and talk to them about toxin reform, and banning asbestos use. It is a public health nuisance, even the acting Surgeon General agrees to that. Educate yourself and others about what asbestos is, and where it's found. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral, and is in the ground, so it will never go away, but by educating yourself is the best way to protect yourself and loved ones. You can find more information through the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance.

In sharing your story, what is one thing you’d want someone to take away?

That there is hope in even the most scary and dire of instances...I try to find the light in every situation.

Learn more about Heather’s journey, and take action for a toxin-free future.  

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