Environmental group says asbestos death toll getting worse - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

Environmental group says asbestos death toll getting worse

Tom Walker/Washington Bureau Chief

Washington D.C., March 4 - Ellen Patton remembers well the terrifying first symptoms of the lung disease that she calls a ticking time bomb, which in its victims is almost always fatal. "I just could not breathe. My lungs tightened. I couldn't inhale, exhale. I couldn't move."

She believes she is a victim of exposure to asbestos, commonly used for decades in a variety of industries and which still is present in buildings, construction sites and products.

The Environmental Working Group says its research shows the death toll getting worse, not better, despite the fact that many people believe asbestos is a problem of the past.

Dr. Richard Lemen is a former assistant US surgeon general. "It's one of the top causes of deaths in this country, more so than drownings, more so than deaths in fires, more so than hepatitis. This is a major health problem."

The report claims as many as 820 asbestos-related deaths in Indiana between 1979 and 2001, 23rd highest among the states.

The number is predicted to grow because many Americans are just now beginning to become sick from exposure that may have occurred decades ago.

This study comes as Congress is considering creation of a fund that would compensate asbestos victims while freeing the industry of lawsuits, and which has become the subject of an ad war between those who say the fund would be inadequate and industry groups who say aid to victims is only being slowed by lawsuits forcing companies into bankruptcy.

Backers of the asbestos fund may bring the issue to a vote in the Senate later this month.

Their critics say this is a problem of public health, not bankruptcy, and the first thing the government should do is ban asbestos immediately.

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