Very few people would ever think to ask the question, do I have asbestos exposure in my neighborhood? Yet the extent of the damage to hundreds of cities, counties, farmland, and even mountainous/hiking areas from asbestos contamination continues to be exposed in the media and in medical reports. Such exposure can often lead to malignant mesothelioma.
Asbestos exposure has become a toxic disaster thousands of times worse than Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, the BP Oil Spill and the Love Canal toxic waste site. It’s not just a problem limited to one relatively small location; asbestos contamination is worldwide, with neighborhood exposure to asbestos that is invisible, yet potentially deadly.
Part of the picture of why neighborhood asbestos exposure is so bad has to do with premature mortality. People die before they should die because of asbestos exposure as it turns into malignant mesothelioma. There are years of potential life lost that occur from chrysotile, tremolite, and crocidolite asbestos exposure. It could be naturally-occurring asbestos or from factories.
OSHA scientists found that between 1999 and 2010, 427,005 years of potential life were lost to life expectancy, attributable to asbestosis and malignant mesothelioma. That’s a lot of talent that is wasted, families harmed, and productivity lessened greatly. People are the #1 best natural resource any country can have.
Shut Down the Town with Neighborhood Asbestos Exposure
There have already been public health studies on neighborhood exposure to asbestos. For example, a crocidolite asbestos mine in southeastern Australia’s town of Wittenoom created so much environmental damage that there are signs in the area about entering at your own risk. The town was closed down with only three of the original residents remaining, and the name of the town removed from maps and all highway signs. The town had a 2-mile creek bed of naturally-occurring asbestos.
Neighborhood exposure to asbestos has been a big problem in Libby, Montana where 10% of all residents developed asbestos disease or mesothelioma. Everyone in the town knows several people affected by “the evil dust”. Interviews with residents bring out comments such as “I know I’ll die from suffocation just like all the others…” due to the asbestos fibers that become lodged in the lungs with no way out. A factory creating vermiculite products (containing asbestos) is at the core of this neighborhood’s exposure to asbestos.
The Clark County/McCullogh Mountains, Nevada Asbestos Neighborhoods
Two researchers at the University of Nevada, Dr. Brenda Buck and Dr. Rod Metcalf have investigated asbestos contamination issues for over a decade. When they began studies of the bluish green McCullogh Mountain areas in southern Nevada, they found asbestos in the rocks and soil.
Working with a University of Hawaii epidemiologist, Dr. Francine Bauman, they found 133 cases of malignant mesothelioma in people living in the neighborhoods of these mountains. Women had a rate of mesothelioma three times the national average, and young adults five times the national average. This is indicative of neighborhood exposure to asbestos.
Yet the researchers received a Cease and Desist order from the state of Nevada after their initial abstract of the findings were released. They were forbidden to publish their results to the public to avoid a public panic.
The ‘Ground Zero’ largest asbestos deposit clearly showed neighborhood exposure to asbestos, and a school had been built at this location. Children walking to school, climbing/sitting/falling on the asbestos containing rocks would easily pick up asbestos fibers in their clothes and bring them back to the rest of the family. Mothers picking up children from school may also be pushing strollers at Ground Zero, unknowingly exposing their young children with poorly developed immune systems to asbestos fibers via inhalation.
In this case, neighborhood exposure to asbestos was hidden from the public for several reasons.
When Route 11 was created as a Boulder City NV bypass as a road from Las Vegas to Reno, the road construction went right through the heart of the asbestos deposits in southern Nevada. Even though the construction team made extra efforts to water down the area so dust wouldn’t be kicked up, the researchers found asbestos fibers in the air at a level of two times the national standard – in towns nearby such as Henderson and all the way to Las Vegas.
Doctors never had a reason to suspect asbestosis or mesothelioma from neighborhood exposure to asbestos. After all, there was never an asbestos manufacturing plant or a shipbuilding plant in Henderson, NV. Residents with lung problems were given diagnoses of COPD for their lung issues, never mesothelioma since they weren’t looking in that direction. They also weren’t looking for ovarian cancer, malignant mesothelioma in any of its ‘famous’ places – the heart, peritoneum, or the scrotum. Thus, medical cases of mesothelioma were underreported.
Neighborhood exposure to asbestos may be made public on a sign that says “Entering an NOA Managed Area” on some roads off the main highways. However, if you aren’t looking for them or don’t know that NOA means ‘naturally occurring asbestos’, you really wouldn’t be alerted, would you?
Neither would you know that your neighborhood was contaminated with asbestos if you purchased a new home in the McCullogh Mountains new housing developments that are situated right on top of the soil, rocks and sand that contain the naturally-occurring asbestos. This may not be disclosed to new home buyers. Businesses in the area promote the area also for mountain biking, hiking and wilderness adventures.
These examples are only a few of the many cases where neighborhood exposure to asbestos is a problem.
What Medical Studies Report Regarding Malignant Mesothelioma
Scientists at the Osaka Prefectural Institute of Public Health in Japan examined studies for the health risks of living in an environment contaminated by asbestos. In case-control studies in South Africa, Italy and the U.K., they found that the relative risk of neighborhood exposure in crocidolite and amosite mines was 10-30 times normal whereas the relative risk of exposure was 5 to 20 in major asbestos factories. This wasn’t statistically significant.
Perhaps the researchers overlooked some important key points. It doesn’t seem logical that there wouldn’t be such a small difference with neighborhood exposures to asbestos when whole towns have to be taken off the map due to the geographical contamination of the soil or contamination from a crocodolite or chrysotile factory.
Two years later, the same researchers reported that neighborhoods south of a former asbestos cement plant still had asbestos fibers in the air. Using a mathematical model, they predicted that 346 deaths would occur from mesothelioma during the latency period.
In Italy at the Cancer Epidemiology Unit in Torino, researchers found 3552 malignant mesothelioma cases. Living in the neighborhood of an industrial or naturally-occurring asbestos source was the cause of 144 cases.
Lung specialists at the University of Joannina Medical School in Greece recorded the incidence of malignant pleural mesothelioma in the northwest of the country called Metsovo. Anyone living here would be inhaling natural-occurring asbestos from tremolite, which is used for whitewashing. Lung calcifications have been found in 47% of the adult population and there was a higher incidence of malignant pleural mesothelioma there as well.
The incidence of mesothelioma reported in 1987 for the time period between 1981 and 1985 was 300 times higher than expected in a population that did not have neighborhood exposure to asbestos.
What’s going on in your neighborhood matters. If your neighborhood has had exposure to asbestos in the past, all neighborhood residents are at risk of asbestos-related health disorders. If you have naturally-occurring asbestos in the soil and rocks, bulldozing or disrupting the soil will release the fibers to the air. Unless you are wearing a respirator, you will breathe them into your lungs.
Since there’s a long latency period for these diseases to manifest, you may not know you have them until it’s too late and you’re given a mesothelioma life expectancy of less than a year to live. It may be best for your family to find out what naturally-occurring asbestos sources are in your neighborhood now and making the best decisions about what to do about them now.
Contact a mesothelioma/asbestos attorney if you need legal assistance in handling your cancer case!
Kumagai, S. and Kurumatani, N. Risk of developing mesothelioma due to neighborhood exposure to asbestos. Sangyo Eiseigaku Zasshi. 2007 May;49(3):77-88.
Mirabelli, D., et al. Non-occupational exposure to asbestos and malignant mesothelioma in the Italian National Registry of Mesotheliomas. Occup Environ Med 2010 Nov;67(11):792-4.
Sakellariou, K., et al. Malignant pleural mesothelioma from nonoccupational asbestos exposure in Metsovo (north-west Greece): slow end of an epidemic? Eur Respir J 1996 Jun 9(6):1206-10.
Kumagi, S. and Kurumatani, N. Asbestos fiber concentration in the area surrounding a former asbestos cement plant and excess mesothelioma deaths in residents. Am J Ind Med 2009 Oct; 52(10):790-8.
Bang, K.M., et al. Diseases attributable to asbestos exposure: years of potential life lost, United States, 1999-2010. Am J Ind Med 2014 Jan;57(1):38-48.