Canton Repository

March 5, 2004

Report: Summit County ranks high in asbestos deaths

Copley Washington correspondent

WASHINGTON — Three Ohio counties, including Summit, are among the top 100 in the nation for deaths from asbestos-related diseases, which will kill 100,000 Americans in the next 10 years, according to a study released Thursday.

The report from the Environmental Working Group Action Fund said of 43,000 deaths attributed to asbestos since 1979, 115 to 148 of them occurred in Summit County, which ranked 87th among counties nationwide.

Stark County ranked seventh for asbestos deaths, with 60 to 93 deaths between 1979 and 2001. Cuyahoga, Hamilton, Lucas and Summit counties had more deaths than Stark.

Other area counties were far down the list in asbestos deaths.

Tuscarawas County had 14 to 22 deaths in the two-decade period. Wayne County had 17 to 24 deaths, Carroll County had six to 10 and Coshocton County had four to six deaths. Harrison County had one to two deaths, according to the report.

In Ohio and elsewhere across the nation, most of the asbestos-related deaths were clustered in heavily industrial areas, including Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo.

Cuyahoga County, which ranked 27th for asbestos deaths across the nation, had 219 to 329 deaths. Hamilton County, ranked 61st, had 125 to 179 deaths.

The Environmental Working Group reported deaths in ranges for the 1979-2001 period based on government mortality data and its own assumptions about the number of asbestos deaths that were missed.

“At a minimum we need to ban asbestos or there will continue to be deaths and disease in the future,” said Richard Wiles, a senior vice president at Environmental Working Group and lead author of the report.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency briefly banned asbestos, but a federal court struck down that ban in 1991. The federal government has regulated asbestos since the 1970s. At one time, the material was used widely in building and manufacturing.

Exposure to asbestos can cause asbestosis, a lung disease; mesothelioma, or cancer of the pleura; and lung and gastrointestinal cancer.

The Asbestos Alliance, a business coalition, denounced the report as “inaccurate and misleading.”

A statement from the coalition said studies published in medical journals “confirm that asbestos deaths have peaked in the U.S.”

The Environmental Working Group urged the defeat of legislation introduced in the Senate, which would protect industry from asbestos-related lawsuits and set up a fund to compensate victims.

The Environmental Working Group said the proposal would “deny justice to hundreds of thousands who have yet to become ill.”

The Asbestos Alliance favors legislation to prevent further bankruptcies at companies sued over asbestos.

“Anyone who doubts the impact of asbestos bankruptcies should talk to asbestos victims who wait longer for often reduced compensation and workers who have lost their jobs and savings,” said Jan Amundson, chair of the alliance.

Several federal and state agencies were contacted for reaction to the study, but none had any comment on it.

Copley News Service correspondent Dori Meinert contributed to this story.