Much of the danger from asbestos results from our limited attention span. As with the ongoing situation we discussed last week, involving elementary schools in Huntington Beach. The schools had to be closed after it was found that renovations were being made that could disturb asbestos during the time children were in the buildings.
Because few if any people are still alive who would have participated in the construction of the schools, and many may not have realized that the buildings likely contained asbestos. Asbestos seems like something from the distant past, which makes it is easy to forget that it remains a threat.
Unless you live in a city like Ambler, Pennsylvania. Like many cities that had old industrial sites, long after the plant closed, their legacy lives on long after the plant’s closure.
Or more accurately, dies on, as the decades-long latency period for contracting mesothelioma means residents who lived in the town when the plan was producing asbestos could still develop asbestos-related illnesses, such as mesothelioma, asbestosis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
The known rate of mesothelioma is about triple the “normal” rate, and that is probably understated, as many of those who developed that cancer may have moved away long ago.
The remediation work has been in process since the late 1980s and has consisted of burying with soil and grass the “white mountains” of asbestos that used to blow across town, and on which the town kids would sled down on sheets of cardboard.
Researchers are going use the town to examine many of the long-term effects of asbestos and perform a detailed study of the population. They hope to answer the question why some people develop mesothelioma, to create a test that would allow for early detection and learn if anything can be done to prevent the development of the disease.
Given the amount of asbestos that exists throughout the country, the answers to these questions are likely to become significant.
Philly.com, “Penn study seeks to track Ambler’s asbestos legacy,” Sandy Bauers, Inquirer Staff Writer, October 20, 2014