Into Thin Air

Disenfranchising Those with Lung Cancer

May 9, 2005

Into Thin Air: Update: Problems Common Across U.S.

News Reports Highlight Communities' Asbestos Problem Common Across US

Today the Senate marks up a $140 billion asbestos bill that tries to help some workers who are sick and dying from asbestos. As today's Oakland Tribune and Sacramento Bee report, one community in California is concerned about its recent discovery that homes and schools were built on a vein of naturally occurring asbestos, but that residents there would face huge hurdles to be eligible for help under the Senate bill because they did not work directly with asbestos. This town raises questions that neighbors of 40 other asbestos "hotspots" could soon be asking.

Federal data reported by the EWG Action Fund identify 40 locations across the country that collectively received 3.9 million tons of deadly asbestos-contaminated vermiculite from Libby, Montana. Many people living near these sites breathed asbestos for years, even decades, and are at elevated risks for asbestos diseases, several of which are fatal. Officials from two federal agencies have acknowledged these risks and are investigating the 29 sites that received the most Libby asbestos.

Find out if you live near a place that shipped and received over 10,000 tons of asbestos here.

Will the bill help anyone who did not work directly with asbestos? Federal mortality statistics for asbestos disease show hundreds of asbestos deaths for elementary and secondary school teachers and hospital workers, who would not qualify for assistance under the Specter/Leahy occupational exposure criteria (National Center for Health Statistics 2004).

Top 5 Occupations for Asbestos Disease Mortality,
1985 to 1999

  • Non-paid worker or non worker at home — 644
  • Construction — 377
  • Elementary and secondary schools — 137
  • Hospitals — 87
  • General government, n.e.c. — 74

Source: Compiled from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), multiple cause of death file 1985-1999. For full list of occupations and mortality, visit