Jim Fite is no more. He died at the age of 77 on January 1, 2024 at his home in Baltimore. He was founder and longtime executive director of the White Lung Association (WLA), the first asbestos victims’ group in the US. I met Jim in Ottawa in September 2003 where he gave a presentation on the work of White Lung Association (WLA), formed in 1979. He was appreciative of the work of the one year old Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) on the website of WLA. He had published the resolution of BANI which was adopted at its launch in April 2002. He was deeply critical of attempts by insurers and asbestos defendants to dump their asbestos liabilities.
Mourning his death, Barry Castleman, the author of “Asbestos: Medical and Legal Aspects” and a longtime colleague and a close friend of Jim said, “Jim had worked in auto plants and shipyards, and in the late 1970s was involved in getting shipyard union workers medically examined for asbestos disease. This led to wider demands for worker screening and the filing of claims for compensation by affected workers.After the 1982 bankruptcy filing by the largest US asbestos company, Manville, WLA was a constant presence during the proceedings.WLA was sometimes critical of the asbestos plaintiffs’ lawyers, as when several tried to get the courts to set up a scheme whereby these same lawyers would represent future asbestos victim claimants under diminished terms of compensation in the 1990s. Castleman recalled, “In the 1960s, Jim was involved in organizing protest demonstrations against the US war in Vietnam. He and two other protesters surprised President Johnson at his appearance at a small town in Oklahoma with protest banners in front of the TV cameras, then being chased and narrowly escaping local toughs with their lives. He was one of US anti-war activists who met with North Vietnamese representatives in Czechoslovakia at the time of the 1968 US presidential election and was impressed at their understanding of things in the US. Jim had extensive involvement in civil rights work in the 1960s and work with the homeless in more recent decades. He was dedicated and courageous in trying to make the world a better place.”
Linda Reinstein, the co-founder of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) remembered Jim’s tireless work with the WLA which played a crucial role in assisting government agencies to draft regulations protecting the public from asbestos exposure, with a notable emphasis on safety in public schools. His efforts led to transformative changes in national, state, and local laws concerning asbestos inspection, training, and safe disposal. His unwavering commitment to this cause helped to elevate workplace safety standards and has saved countless lives. Jim was given the 2006 ADAO Asbestos Awareness and Prevention Conference with the Tribute of Unity Award for his amazing work. Linda said, “His passing is a profound loss; however, his legacy lives on through the lasting impact of his work and the ongoing efforts of the White Lung Association. His dedication to improving occupational health and safety has forever changed the landscape of asbestos prevention and policy in the United States. Jim will be remembered as a beacon of hope and a relentless advocate for a safer, asbestos-free world.”
Jim’s legacy will pave the way for justice for victims of asbestos related diseases and corporate crimes. His memory will continue to inspire BANI’s work for asbestos free India.