Communities Dealing with High Asbestos Exposure Risks
Usually, when we hear about cases of asbestos exposure, we hear about individuals who weren’t adequately protected from this material. They may have encountered asbestos because of their jobs, or because someone they lived with handled asbestos on a regular basis. There are also aging buildings that can put people at risk because they’re both old and in poor condition, causing mineral fibers to break off of asbestos-containing products.
What’s beyond appalling is when we hear of entire communities dealing with asbestos exposure. These types of situations raise many questions: Who’s responsible for placing these people at risk? What can be done to protect future generations? What do the locals know about the hazards surrounding asbestos exposure?
Recently, I read about a student at the University of Pennsylvania who’s currently studying one former factory town in order to answer some of these questions.
People don’t realize that ‘risk is real’
Shabnam Elahi, a senior at Penn, is a biology major who decided to focus her research on a town named Ambler, which is 40 minutes northeast of Philadelphia. In 1881, Ambler became home to an asbestos factory. By mid-20th century, the science connecting asbestos to potentially fatal diseases such as malignant mesothelioma became too difficult to deny, and factories such as the one in Ambler began to shut down.
Unfortunately, a lot of the waste product was left behind.
Eventually, the federal Environmental Protection Agency designated Ambler as a Superfund site, which gives the government the power to oversee the rehabilitation of the area’s cleanup.
Meanwhile, Elahi, along with her colleagues and mentors, is speaking to the people of the town in order to learn who’s developing mesothelioma, who’s most at risk and what people know about the risks surrounding asbestos exposure.
Frances Barg, associate professor of family medicine and community health in Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine and associate professor in the anthropology department (and also a mentor of Elahi), also told Penn News that the long period of time it takes for this disease to develop led people to have a misconception that asbestos-related risks aren’t deserving of so much worry.
Ultimately, Elahi can use this information to predict who’s at risk and figure out how to help them.
There are asbestos Superfund sites everywhere
Ambler isn’t the only place in the U.S. that the federal government thinks is deserving of help for an asbestos problem. Across the country, there are other communities dealing with these issues.
Among the most well-known of these towns is Libby, Mont. This community was once a world leader in the mining and processing of vermiculite, a significant proportion of which was tainted with asbestos.
In California, there are two areas being considered for Superfund designation sites: El Dorado Hills, where the soil around a high school was found to contain asbestos, and Clear Creek Management Area, where recreational vehicles are liable to disturb asbestos fibers in the soil.
There are several things you can do to keep dust out of your house. When it comes to driving vehicles, walking, running or playing, make sure that you and your children stick only with paved surfaces or ground that has some sort of covering, like shredded rubber, grass, sand or asphalt. Before entering the house, remove your shoes and ensure that your pets have clean feet and fur.