Summary: The Buffalo metro area suffers from a sharply elevated rate of deaths from asbestos-triggered disease, according to an analysis of federal mortality data and calculations by international cancer researchers.
For Immediate Release: December 17, 2015: Contact: Alex Formuzis, EWG Action Fund: 202.667.6982 Death Rate Dwarfs State, U.S. Averages Washington, D.C. – The Buffalo metro area suffers from a sharply elevated rate of deaths from asbestos-triggered disease, according to an analysis of federal mortality data and calculations by international cancer researchers. The a...
For Immediate Release: December 17, 2015:
Contact: Alex Formuzis, EWG Action Fund: 202.667.6982
Death Rate Dwarfs State, U.S. Averages
Washington, D.C. – The Buffalo metro area suffers from a sharply elevated rate of deaths from asbestos-triggered disease, according to an analysis of federal mortality data and calculations by international cancer researchers.
The analysis by Environmental Working Group Action Fund found that from 1999 to 2013 Niagara County had almost three times as many asbestos-related deaths annually as the national average. Cattaraugus County’s asbestos death rate is more than twice the national average and Erie County’s rate is more than 65 percent higher.
Asbestos Mortality Rates Per 100,000 People, 1999-2013
|County||Annual Mortality Rate||State Average||U.S. Average|
Source: EWG Action Fund, from Centers for Disease Control and International Agency for Research on Cancer
Niagara and Cattaraugus counties rank first and second in asbestos death rates in New York State, and Erie ranks eighth. Of all counties in the U.S., Niagara County’s rate is 57th, or in the highest two percent.
Between 1999 and 2013, asbestos-triggered diseases – asbestosis, an excruciatingly painful scarring of the lungs that is often fatal; mesothelioma, a rare and incurable cancer; and lung cancer from asbestos exposure – have claimed the lives of 1,749 residents of the three counties. In that period, those diseases have killed 12,146 New Yorkers statewide.
“We can’t say for sure what’s behind the region’s high asbestos mortality rates,” said Sonya Lunder, an EWG Action Fund scientist who conducted the analysis. “But looking at the industries that dominated the region before the 1980s, when asbestos use began to decline dramatically, gives us some clues.”
Lackawanna Steel Company, located in Buffalo and owned by Bethlehem Steel, was once the largest steel factory in the world and employed tens of thousands of workers for much of the 20th century. General Motors’ Tonawanda Engine factory, where many of the engines for the car company are assembled, has also been an economic mainstay for more than 75 years. The steel and auto industries once used asbestos extensively. Workers who contracted asbestos-related diseases have named both Bethlehem and GM in thousands of personal injury lawsuits. Paper and pulp production, mining and chemical production also played important roles in the economy of western New York.
Although asbestos use has declined dramatically since its deadly nature became widely known, it remains legal – and lethal. Up to 15,000 Americans each year still die from asbestos illnesses. Decades can pass between asbestos exposure and diagnosis, which means there are many other Americans who will suffer or die in years to come. But legislation is moving through Congress that could further harm both current and future victims.
The so-called FACT Act (H.R. 536 in the House and S. 357 in the Senate) would require the private trusts that were set up to compensate asbestos victims to produce needless and expensive reports, depleting already-dwindling funds and slowing processing of claims. These reports would also publicly disclose victims’ personal information such as name, employment history, medical condition and partial Social Security numbers on the Internet, placing victims and their families at heightened risk of identity theft and other cyber crimes.
Among the powerful interests behind the FACT ACT are Koch Industries, Honeywell International, and Nationwide and Allstate insurance companies. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is spending millions of dollars on lobbyists to push the bill, which could come up for a vote in the House as early as January.
“The history of asbestos use in America, and the suffering that continues today, is a tragedy,” said Alex Formuzis of EWG Action Fund. “We can’t allow the tragedy to be compounded to protect the companies responsible.”
Organizations that strongly oppose H.R. 526, include the American Veterans (AMVETS), the Association of the U.S. Navy, the Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH), the International Association of Fire Fighters, which represents the nation’s first responder community, the National Education Association, AFSCME and the AFL-CIO, among other groups.
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.