DECATUR – Leland W. Personette exposes the dangers of occupational dust in a new autobiographical book, “Dusty Trades.”
Personette's father, Paul, died in 1977 at age 65 of complications from silicosis, a respiratory disease caused by longtime inhaling of silica dust. Personette, 70, also suffers from silicosis.
At risk are workers in abrasives manufacturing, glass manufacturing, quarrying, road and building construction, miners, sand blasting and stone cutting.
Personette points out that silicosis is an insidious disease much like high blood pressure.
“You can breathe in a speck of dust today or tomorrow and not feel the effects. Each speck that attaches itself deep in your lungs over time will become toxic and your immune system will be compromised, scarring will develop and bad things will happen to your body.”
According to the Decatur man, more than 2 million workers in the U.S. are exposed to levels at or above the federal limits and more than 59,000 workers will develop silicosis each year and are at risk for long-term health issues.
Silicosis dates back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. There is no cure.
“Politicians, industry lawyers and scholars say this disease is no longer a problem,” Personette writes. “The sand industry has put a lot of resources in fighting any person that files a civil law action. They simply don't want silicosis to become the new asbestosis.”
In 1959 at age 47, Personette's father, Paul, began working in the dry powder department Technical Adhesive in Evanston, manufacturing mortars and grouts for the ceramic tile industry. Two years later, Personette dropped out of high school, and with his brother, Vic, joined their father in the plant.
“We all worked 10 to 12 hours a day, six days a week,” Personette said. “No one warned us of the hazards of the dust in the job.”
Personette served in the U.S. Air Force from 1966-1970, then returned to the Evanston plant and worked there until silicosis forced him to retire in 2001. He was the company's environment, health and safety manager.
Personette has lost both kidneys to silicosis and is currently on blood cleansing dialysis 11 hours a day in his home.
“My quality of life has suffered because I was exposed to puffs of dust for many years while making a living,” he said.
Personette's son, Phillip, is helping with marketing “Dusty Trades,” and his 13-year-old grandson, Tristan, has screen-printed T-shirts promoting the book.
Personette is currently reworking “Dusty Trades” to publish a guidebook on silicosis.
“I continue trying to educate people on this danger,” he said.