The Death of Merlin Olsen

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Football Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen died at age 69 of complications related to malignant mesothelioma on thursday, March 11th 2010. Olsen had been diagnosed last year with the condition and was receiving ongoing chemotherapy treatments. Malignant mesothelioma is a cancerous disorder of the protective linings of organs such as the heart and lungs. In January of 2010, Olsen filed a lawsuit against NBC for exposing him to asbestos, the fibrous building material which causes malignant mesothelioma in addition to other disorders.

Merlin Olsen made the pro-bowl 14 times and was selected by Sports Illustrated in 2000 as one of Utah’s 50 greatest athletes of the century. A graduate of Utah State, Olsen went All-American twice and received the Outland trophy. He played with the Los Angeles Rams from 1962 to 1976 and was not absent from a single game in fifteen seasons. Following his football career, Merlin Olsen turned to commentating on AFC games in the 1980s and even dabbled in acting as Johnathan Garvey in Little House on the Prairie.

Asbestos was once favored by builders for its strength, flexibility, and resistance to damage from physical and electrical sources, but it was eventually found to be extremely hazardous. The crystals which compose it can be easily broken and released into the air where they are inhaled. They damage the lungs as well as complicate respiration and normal organ function due to their absorptive properties. The use of asbestos is now highly regulated. In 1989 the Environmental Protection Agency issued a final ban ruling on the use of asbestos which was later overtuned by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. Many new uses of absestos, however, remain blocked under the ban.

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