The legacy of asbestos in the Philadelphia region is one of the worst in the country, with annual mortality rates from asbestos-triggered diseases far higher than the national average.
For immediate release: March 14, 2016 - Contact: Alex Formuzis: firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.667.6982 Washington, D.C. --- The legacy of asbestos in the Philadelphia region is one of the worst in the country, with annual mortality rates from asbestos-triggered diseases far higher than the national average, according to a report by researchers with Environmental Working Group Actio...
For immediate release: March 14, 2016 – Contact: Alex Formuzis: email@example.com or 202.667.6982
Washington, D.C. — The legacy of asbestos in the Philadelphia region is one of the worst in the country, with annual mortality rates from asbestos-triggered diseases far higher than the national average, according to a report by researchers with Environmental Working Group Action Fund.
Nationwide, 4.9 deaths out of every 100,000 are caused from diseases associated with exposure to the deadly carcinogen. In Delaware County, the rate jumps to 12.9 where 1,078 of its residents have passed away from asbestos illnesses between 1999 and 2013.
The analysis combines federal records of deaths from mesothelioma and asbestosis from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with a formula developed by international cancer researchers with the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) for estimating lung cancer deaths from asbestos.
Other counties in the region that bear an outsize burden for asbestos-caused disease include:
- Montgomery County: 1,272 deaths (1999-2013), 10.8 annual mortality rate
- Philadelphia County: 1,345 deaths (1999-2013), 5.9 annual morality rate
- Bucks County: 747 deaths (1999-2013), 8.0 annual mortality rate
- Chester County: 439 deaths (1999-2013), 6.1 annual mortality rate
Just across the border in New Jersey, several counties have also taken a heavy toll as a result of asbestos and the deadly diseases linked to it.
- Gloucester County: 601 deaths (1999-2013), 14.5 annual mortality rate
- Camden County: 934 deaths (1999-2013), 12.1 annual mortality rate
- Burlington County: 634 deaths (1999-2013), 9.5 annual mortality rate
Pennsylvania ranks 3rd among all 50 states for the most deaths during that period with more than 14,200 residents of the Keystone State succumbing to diseases triggered by asbestos. Of those, nearly 5,000 occurred in the 5 Pennsylvania counties highlighted above. Only California and Florida saw more residents die during that period of time (1999-2103) from asbestos exposure.
Asbestos was widely used for much of the 20th century by various industries that played substantial roles in the Philadelphia-area economy and employed thousands of residents, including, shipbuilding, petroleum refineries, steel, textiles and automobile manufacturing, to name just a few.
One of the most infamous examples of industrial asbestos production occurred in the town of Ambler, located in Montgomery County.
In 1882, Richard Mattison, a 30-year old scientist from Bucks County, who had been one of the first people to identify and appreciate the heat-resistant qualities of asbestos, came to Ambler to launch his empire. With a combination of ample fresh spring water and a railroad that could deliver asbestos from the mines in Canada, Mattison and his business partner, Henry Keasbey, turned silk and wool mills into asbestos factories. The relocation of Keasbey and Mattison Co. (K&M) was such a success that Mattison would later earn the moniker “Asbestos King” by the press at the time.
That legacy has had an indelible impact on the small hamlet just north of Philadelphia.
The aftermath of the asbestos industry there produced 1.5 million cubic yards of asbestos waste in a 25-acre area the townspeople dubbed the “White Mountains” where local children would play year round. In 1986 the federal Environmental Protection Agency officially placed it on the agency’s National Priorities List of Superfund sites.
A study conducted by the Pennsylvania Department of Health in 2011 estimated that the residents of Ambler were 3.1 times more likely to be diagnosed with mesothelioma than other residents of the state. Mesothelioma is an extremely painful, almost-always fatal cancer that attacks the lining around the lungs, stomach and other vital organs. The only known cause of the disease is from asbestos exposure.
In the summer of 2015, city inspectors discovered potential asbestos exposure risks during a major sweep of Philadelphia public schools that found numerous, widespread health hazards that had gone unattended.
Asbestos is no longer produced in the U.S. and its use among many industries has sharply declined, including those with operations in the Philadelphia area. However, it remains legal and is imported into the U.S. from other countries. And, of course, much of the asbestos-containing materials are still present in every community in the country. Buildings, homes and schools erected before 1980 are almost certainly constructed with materials made with the deadly substance, which can easily become airborne if disrupted.
Disturbingly, the number of Americans who die each year at the hands of asbestos has not declined even while asbestos use has decreased. The reasons for this are likely two-fold.
First, the latency period for asbestos disease can be long, with many victims being diagnosed and dying twenty, thirty or forty years after exposure. And second, the sheer amount of asbestos products and waste that remain accessible in Philadelphia and beyond continues to be a source of exposure for many people, including children and young adults who will fall ill years from now.
Certain professions put people at heightened risk of being exposed to asbestos and dying from asbestos disease. Recent studies by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) show teachers and fire fighters are 2 times more likely to die from mesothelioma than the general population. Those in the construction trades are also at much greater risk of asbestos exposure.
A key committee of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives will vote on legislation in the coming weeks that threatens to delay and deny compensation to those current Pennsylvanians dying from asbestos-triggered diseases.
The “Fairness in Claims and Transparency Act (H.B.1428) authored by Rep. Warren Kampf (R- Dist. 157) would force plaintiffs and their attorneys to maneuver through a series of laborious and unnecessary legal hurdles, and hand the industry enormous powers.
Specifically, H.B. 1428 would:
- Force plaintiffs to disclose confidential settlement negotiations;
- Allow asbestos defendant companies the authority to delay litigation, which would see many victims succumb to their illnesses before their day in court; and
- Severely revise time-honored tort law to let asbestos corporations responsible poisoning the plaintiffs off the hook.
This is part of a nationwide campaign by the asbestos industry to get states to adopt laws that would allow corporations responsible for victims’ illnesses to escape responsibility. Similar legislation has become law in 6 states and is working through the legislatures in at least 11 others.
EWG Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) organization that is a separate sister organization of the Environmental Working Group. The mission of EWG Action Fund is to protect health and the environment by educating the public and lobbying on a wide range of environmental issues. Donations to EWG Action Fund are not tax-deductible.