Although asbestos is known to be a dangerous and carcinogenic material, laws that regulate use, exposure and abatement can vary significantly from state to state. California has rather stringent laws meant to limit exposure to asbestos, but that's not the case in every state. And even within states, an individual's risk of being exposed to asbestos can vary widely.
As just one example, a large section of East Texas has been dubbed "Asbestos Alley" in a recent report by the Environmental Working Group, a non-partisan lobbying organization. According to the report, death rates from asbestos-related diseases in this eight-county region are two to five times higher than the national average. It will likely come as no surprise that this is a heavily industrialized region.
Nationally, the average mortality rate for asbestos-related illnesses is about 4.9 deaths per 100,000 people. As a state, Texas has an asbestos mortality rate of only 3.3 per 100,000, which is below the national average. In Asbestos Alley, however, mortality rates are between 11.8 and 23.9 per 100,000.
Texas has a reputation as a state that eschews most kinds of business regulation. That attitude could be an explanatory factor in these unsettling statistics, but it doesn't explain why asbestos mortality rates are so much higher in this area compared to the rest of the state.
Regardless of how Asbestos Alley came to be so dangerous and deadly, we must hope that the EWG report prompts local action to address the high rates of exposure and disease in the region.