Deep roots of American history run through Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is also one of the few states in the country that has a long history of mining asbestos.
Coal mining occurred in the western regions of Pennsylvania. Records from the United States Geological Survey show four asbestos mines in the southeastern region of the state.
The precise type of asbestos found in these mines is amphibole. One subtype of amphibole asbestos, crocidolite, is the most dangerous type of asbestos. Asbestos exposure causes asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma cancer.
Pennsylvania schools have a long history of asbestos contamination. It has concerned parents, teachers and administrators for decades. In September 2020, three Pennsylvania school district officials received felony child endangerment charges. They allegedly covered up asbestos and lead contamination in schools.
Job Sites with Known Asbestos Exposure
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has cited facilities throughout the Commonwealth. Many businesses and municipalities had to clean up their sites. Once the agency completed and approved the cleanup, the agency removed the site from the National Priorities List (NPL).
A number of industries, such as shipbuilding, construction, pipefitting and demolition, also contributed to the asbestos problem in this region of the U.S. Chemical plants, power plants, shipyards, landfills, mining sites and other locations were included (and later deleted) from the NPL. Moreover, Pennsylvania was one of the many states that received large shipments of asbestos-contaminated vermiculite from Libby, Montana, from 1948 to 1993.
Job Sites with Known Asbestos Exposure:
- Bethlehem Steel Shipyard
- Penn Shipbuilding
- Philadelphia Naval Shipyard
- Key Highway Shipyard
- Pennsylvania Shipyard (Beaumont)
- Sun Shipbuilding
- Alcoa Aluminum
- USX Corporation
- Bethlehem Steel
- LTV Steel
In January 2019, residents of Bucks County appeared at a town hall meeting to discuss the discovery of asbestos at Rockhill Quarry in Perkasie Township. Workers found asbestos at the job site in December 2018 during routine testing. A local congressman sent a letter to the quarry operator urging them to halt production.
Asbestos-Related Deaths in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania currently ranks third in the nation for mesothelioma deaths and fourth in the nation for deaths from asbestosis.
Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that 3,092 Pennsylvanians died of mesothelioma from 1999 to 2017, and another 568 died from asbestosis. Additional CDC records from this period list 36 Pennsylvania counties that reported deaths from mesothelioma and asbestosis.
The ten leading counties for mesothelioma deaths include:
- Allegheny County (288)
- Philadelphia County (222)
- Montgomery County (205)
- Delaware County (165)
- Bucks County (123)
- Lancaster County (101)
- Berks County (74)
- Chester County (74)
- Luzerne County (63)
- Lehigh County (59)
Mesothelioma Cases Will Continue
In a 1999 interview, mesothelioma expert Dr. Daniel Sterman offered an unsettling observation. “Even … if no one else in America was exposed to asbestos again, starting tomorrow, we would still have a marked increase in the number of cases [of mesothelioma] over the next 10 to 15 years.”
Cases would continue to increase because of the latency period associated with mesothelioma. On average, it takes 30 to 45 years after initial exposure to asbestos before symptoms arise and doctors can make a diagnosis. The gap can vary significantly depending on the patient and the nature of his or her exposure.
Superfund Sites in Pennsylvania
Because of its mining history – and its history of importing and exporting asbestos – Pennsylvania has had its share of EPA Superfund sites.
The BoRit Asbestos Site in Ambler, Pennsylvania, got added to the list in April 2009. Air and soil tests showed that airborne asbestos levels were not a public health hazard, as long as the on-site soil was not aggressively disturbed. As a precautionary measure, visitors were instructed to avoid any direct soil activity.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR) recommended the removal of asbestos-contaminated materials in order to prevent cases of asbestos-related diseases. The agencies also recommended that the site be continually evaluated.
The Ambler Asbestos Piles was another Superfund site in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. The agency removed it as an NPL site in 1996.
There are about 40 residences within a quarter mile of the 25-acre site. The air, groundwater, soil, sediments and surface water of the site formerly contained asbestos. Reviews of the site in 1997, 2002 and 2007 ensured that remedies worked. A local tributary, Wissahickon Creek, and its floodplain border the site require further reviews.