Exposure to asbestos has been recognized as the cause of mesothelioma for nearly 60 years. While many cases of mesothelioma result from occupational exposure, mesothelioma can also result from environmental asbestos exposure. Environmental exposure occurs in neighborhoods surrounding industrial facilities that used or processed substantial amounts of raw asbestos fibers.

For those living near an asbestos source, the magnitude of increased mesothelioma risk depends on proximity to the emission site and the rate and quantity of asbestos emitted, weather conditions and prevailing wind direction. For instance, high asbestos emission levels at the Durez plant in North Tonawanda, New York, between 1959 and 1978 have resulted in several cases of mesothelioma among neighborhood residents.

Approximately 76 former Durez employees have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, and at least five cases of mesothelioma have been reported among the community of people living or working near Durez. Because malignant mesothelioma is a rare disease, the unusually high incidence of mesothelioma among Durez workers demonstrates that they are at a greatly increased risk of developing the disease. Increased mesothelioma risk among the Durez workforce also confirms evidence that environmental asbestos exposure is the cause of mesothelioma among nearby residents.

Durez mixed raw asbestos with other materials to strengthen the plastic molding compound it manufactured. This was an extremely dusty process, and dust collectors were used to siphon off dust from the mixers. The dust collectors were not effective, however, and asbestos dust escaped into the surrounding neighborhood. Air currents disseminated the asbestos dust throughout the community, where it settled on residents’ homes, lawns, cars and swimming pools.

According to industrial hygiene and epidemiological studies, air currents have the ability to carry asbestos far distances depending on the strength and pattern of the wind. Therefore, even residents who live significant distances from an asbestos source can have an elevated risk of mesothelioma caused by environmental exposure. For example, studies have reported a significantly elevated risk among women living around facilities that used crocidolite, and as far as 1.5 miles if their residence was in the direction of prevailing winds.

Environmental asbestos exposure also increases the risk of developing mesothelioma for those living near a source of naturally occurring asbestos. This is the case in Jefferson County, New York, where naturally occurring asbestos formations exist throughout talc deposits. These deposits, known as the Balmat mines, were actively mined from 1968 to 1981 by International Talc Co., later known as Gouverneur Talc. As a result of the mining of these naturally occurring asbestos formations, residents of Jefferson County near the mines were environmentally exposed to asbestos. Jefferson County has continually had one of the highest mortality rates for mesothelioma in the United States, and the mesothelioma rate is now five to ten times the background rate, among the general population.

Environmental exposure to asbestos from living or working near facilities like Durez or near mines like the Balmat mines put many residents in these communities at risk for developing mesothelioma or lung cancer. The strength of a claim involving environmental exposure depends, in part, on ruling out other exposures to asbestos or agents that cause cancer. If you worked at a steel mill or in a similar occupation where you were exposed to asbestos and also lived near an industrial site where asbestos was used, both exposures would likely factor into the cause of your disease. If you or a loved one believe you were environmentally exposed to asbestos and have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or lung cancer, we urge you to contact us regarding your legal rights.