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New Study Shows Allegheny County Having Asbestos-Related Deaths Drastically Above National Average

Illustration of mesothelioma research

According to a new study by the Environmental Working Group Action fund of Washington, D.C., Allegheny County in the state of Pennsylvania has asbestos-related deaths over 100 percent above the national average. The fund is a non-profit public health advocacy organization.

Research shows the county had an average of about 107 asbestos-related deaths a year for the 15 years studied. This is much larger than the amount estimated in past years. Out of the 67 counties in Pennsylvania, 28 have rates anywhere from four to 13 times the average, with Allegheny being number one.

“We are the largest industrial area in an industrial state, so it’s not a great surprise that we have the largest number of deaths from asbestosis and lung cancer,” said epidemiologist Luann Brink at the Allegheny County Heath Department. “But you need to remember the deaths are caused by asbestos exposure 20, even 40 years ago and don’t reflect current, much more limited exposure.”

An estimated 20 million people in the U.S. are at risk of developing mesothelioma at some point in their lives, but the “long lag time,” aka the latency period, between their first exposure and the cancer’s development is typically 20-40 years. The average age at which a person is diagnosed is 74 for males and 71 for females.

This latency period also means that the disease is not detected until symptoms arise. Often, by that time, the cancer has often spread from the primary area to other parts of the body.

Maine, West Virginia, Virginia, Delaware, and Montana also have rates 50 to 100 percent higher than the U.S. average. These Northeastern shipbuilding areas, the mid-Atlantic “Rust Belt,” and defense industry sites are hot spots for high asbestos death rates.

People employed as lumbers, pipe fitters, steam fitters, electricians, and construction workers are most likely to be exposed to asbestos and develop the associated diseases as a result according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

But workers aren’t the only ones who could suffer. Secondhand exposure is common amongst wives and children who were exposed to fibers on workers’ clothes when they arrived home.

“The death rates are high in areas of the country where people were exposed in industries that used asbestos,” said Sonya Lunder, senior analyst for Environmental Working Group. “That includes Montana, where it was mined; in Utah where it’s naturally occurring in rocks; in shipyards, ship-building ports, the building trades, and the steel industry.”

This study was released as Congress considers the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act and the Reducing Exposure to Asbestos Database Act. The first will make it much harder for victims to receive compensation and limit the time for dying asbestos victims before they can receive compensation for their health problems.

The second would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to create a public list of every single product that contains asbestos. In 1989, it was attempted to have the hazardous air pollutant banned, however, that effort failed and importation is still allowed for use in construction materials, vehicle brake pads, roof shingles, and more.