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White Lung Assn. Wants Asbestos Museum

by Wayne Laufert
Dundalk Eagle, Dundalk, MD, July 18, 1996

The White Lung Association has begun the biggest fundraising project in its 17-year history, an attempt to collect $2.5 million for a national asbestos museum & research center.

With only about $20,000 in the treasury, the association has a long way to go.

Officials with the WLA have asked for $50 donations from its members--a tough request for people whose chief income is a disability or pension check, admits WLA executive director James Fite.

But the association--with headquarters in Baltimore & a chapter in Dundalk--has yet to receive money from lawyers, doctors & other professional people who have been asked for help. That includes noted asbestos attorney Peter G. Angelos, with whom WLA officials discussed a $500,000 donation last December, according to Fite.

"We have to continue on whether Mr. Angelos decides to help us or not," Fite said Monday.

Angelos said on Tuesday that he probably would make a contribution, but is not sure how much.

"We want to determine what the total program will cost & get a better idea of what the project is about," he said "But it's certainly a worthwhile cause."

The museum would house exhibits, keep information on computers, serve as a research facility for students & scholars, provide a permanent home for board member Bill Ravanesi's traveling asbestos symposium--& even draw out-of-town visitors, according to WLA president Paul Safchuck of Woodrow Avenue.

"We would like to have it in an area not too far from the Inner Harbor, because it would be a tourist attraction," said Safchuck, who leads monthly meetings of WLA's Dundalk group--the association's only Baltimore-area chapter--at St. Rita's School.

The association was formed in Fresno, Calif., in 1979. It moved to Baltimore in 1982, not long after Safchuck was diagnosed with a lung disease caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos, a substance used for decades in fireproof insulation.

Until now, the most money the WLA has had to raise, according to Safchuck, was about $70,000 for setting up its current office in the 3000 block of Barclay Street.

But more room is needed, WLA officials contend. For instance, they have no way of electronically storing the mounds of asbestos-related information the office collects from all over the world.

Fite said some 3,000 square feet of the museum could be filled with 60 displays that make up Ravanesi's traveling exhibit, which he said is popular in big cities where asbestos-related illness is a problem. The building also could give more room to the WLA's five federal & state-certified trainers who teach workers how to properly handle asbestos.

"We definitely think people will come & visit," Fite said. No other American museum chronicles its citizens' interaction with a manmade toxin, he pointed out.

"It would be the only museum, the only research center in the world of that type," Safchuck said.

When the museum opens depends upon how quickly the association raises money. The target date now is 1998, according to Safchuck.

The $2.5 million would allow the WLA to obtain & renovate a building & buy computers & other equipment, he said. Then a fund could be established so the operation becomes self-sufficient, he said.

Nationwide, the association has 45,000 members, with about 2,000 of them in the Baltimore area, according to Safchuck.

For more information about the White Lung Association and its programs, please contact Jim Fite, jfite@whitelung.org
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