The Pennsylvania University has received a grant of $10 million from the NIEHS (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences for studying asbestos and the impact of the mineral on the Ambler suburban community.
Though the asbestos factory of the town closed several decades back, now it is one of the designated superfund sites of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) due to the unusually high rate of an asbestos-linked cancer known as malignant mesothelioma among the residents.
Trevor M. Penning, the Director of the Centre of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology, said it was the nation’s 2nd largest asbestos dump site which covers nearly 35 acres. The tenants of the community have been highly concerned regarding the dangerous asbestos waste for a very long time, he said. Therefore, every project in this grant in fact addresses the concern of the community, Penning said.
The grant is going to fund 6 research projects that are being carried out by different researchers. The researchers include Joseph Testa (Fox Chase Cancer Centre) and Ian Blair (Penn).
One of the projects would study if fungi-infected plants could break down the asbestos mineral form to a comparatively less hazardous form.
Other researchers think about developing a blood test for evaluating the exposure to asbestos and linked disease. They would also try to find out if a flaxseed antioxidant can prevent asbestos-related disease.
All the data would then be provided to the residents of Ambler. They have been discussing with the researchers regarding their questions and concerns.
The actual uniqueness of this grant is that it was one of the rare examples whereby environmental health researchers have been approachable to the requirements of a community when its environmental health is challenged, Penning said. He said the results would also be useful to all other asbestos dump sites across the United States.
Asbestos is a mineral mined from nature, which was extensively used until the 1980s by most industries in the United States. Despite its good properties and low cost, the use of asbestos has been highly restricted and regulated since the 1980s due to its hazardous nature. Exposure to asbestos and inhalation of its tiny fibers are linked to several severe health conditions such as asbestosis and pleural plaques. Asbestos exposure could also cause lung cancer. Malignant mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the mesothelium, is the most dangerous asbestos-related condition.