Dirty Laundry is a new documentary about two cousins’ journey across America to investigate the dark history of asbestos exposure and how it remains a problem today.
Along the way, they gain a better understanding of why their own grandmother died from mesothelioma.
About the Filmmakers
Conor Lewis and Zack Johnson, two cousins from the Midwest who lost their 90-year-old grandmother to mesothelioma, produced the documentary. The cousins were not at first shocked by her death, believing it to be an unfortunate cancer diagnosis toward the end of her natural life. Then they learned that mesothelioma has one direct cause—asbestos exposure.
Digging into their family past, Lewis and Johnson discovered that their grandfather worked at a Shell Oil refinery where he insulated pipes with asbestos. Every day as he handled the harmful material, the sharp fibers broke off and lodged in his clothing.
Upon returning home at the end of his shift, his wife shook out the excess dust from his uniform before washing it—inhaling the fibers in the process. Over time, the asbestos exposure developed into mesothelioma.
Neither she nor her husband knew the deadly nature of asbestos fibers. But did Shell Oil know and keep the facts hidden from its employers? Johnson and Lewis set out to answer this question and many others.
About the Journey
The cousins traveled over 4,200 miles by bicycle across the United States. They started out in Astoria, Oregon, pedaled south to California, then made the long trek across the continent to New York. The trip took them nearly 2 months to complete, traveling an average of 85 miles per day. They were accompanied by a camera crew but completed the entire journey on 2 wheels.
Along the way, they met mesothelioma patients and their families, doctors, lawmakers and other everyday Americans involved with mesothelioma awareness. Each conversation helped shape their understanding of asbestos exposure and why it kills 12,000 to 15,000 people in the U.S. each year.
The victims they interviewed helped inspire them on their mission:
While riding your bike 4,200 miles over 2 months sounds hard, it’s nothing like getting a [mesothelioma] diagnosis. It gave us a renewed understanding of just how bad asbestos diseases are.
Asbestos Exposure Remains a Problem
One of the most shocking discoveries for the cousins is that Americans continue to face the threat of asbestos exposure today. While asbestos has been largely phased out since the 1980s, the hazardous fibers remain in old buildings and products. There are even some manufactured goods that continue to use asbestos under the “allowable limits.”
The documentary highlights several ongoing asbestos risks in the United States today.
Some of the current asbestos dangers include:
- Demolition projects
- Open asbestos waste sites
- Contaminated buildings
- Construction materials
- Vehicle parts
- Heat-resistant clothing
Johnson and Lewis visited the communities where toxic sites continue to make its residents sick. They also shined the spotlight on big corporations, past and present, that knowingly put workers and their families at risk of developing deadly asbestos-related conditions.
In addition to raising awareness of asbestos risks, the cousins want to put pressure on lawmakers to completely ban asbestos use and imports, while improving safety protocols.
The film begs the question: Why is asbestos an ongoing health concern for modern-day Americans?
An Important Film for All Americans
“Dirty Laundry” is gaining momentum across the country. It was an official selection at several film festivals, including the Newport Beach, Kansas City and San Luis Obispo festivals. The filmmakers hope to make the documentary available on streaming services so that everyone can learn about the dangers of asbestos exposure.
The documentary runs 75 minutes. It’s playing at select theaters across the country. To receive updates about the film and future showings, visit the film’s website to subscribe to news alerts or follow the filmmakers on Twitter, @asbestosmovie.