The family of Howard Willems says he died peacefully Thursday after a long battle with mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that comes from inhaling asbestos fibres.
Willems’ stepson, Jesse Todd, says his stepfather had been sedated for the last 48 hours and last spoke Tuesday.
“He gathered the family around and said he’d had enough and he was tired,” Todd said in a phone interview from Saskatoon. “Just wanted to go in peace.”
Willems worked as a building inspector for 31 years. Last week he said in media interviews that people should know if they’re going into buildings that have asbestos — especially if there is construction work.
Asbestos was frequently used in building materials, such as insulation and roofing, until the late 1970s. It is not considered harmful if undisturbed, but construction work stirs up hazardous fibres that can be inhaled.
Willems had said the buildings he entered were not marked and there was no warning on the insulating material. He added he would have taken steps to protect himself had he known there was asbestos in the buildings he inspected.
Willems spoke out as the Opposition NDP introduced a private member’s bill in the Saskatchewan legislature that would require that details about asbestos containment in public buildings be listed online.
Todd says Willems tried to make a difference.
“He just hopes that all this does bring about change in the end. You know, this was his wish.”
The World Health Organization estimates that 107,000 people die globally each year from asbestos-related disease.