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Study Shows Possible Asbestos Impact

By Bill Zeeble, KERA reporter

Dallas, TX – Bill Zeeble, KERA reporter: The W.R. Grace plant in west Dallas processed tons and tons of vermiculite mined and shipped in from Montana, between 1953 & 1992. In processing those rocks, the plant spewed hazardous asbestos fibers into the air where it could be inhaled by workers, neighbors, and students in nearby schools. At one of them last night, Thomas Edison Middle School, health and elected officials conducted a town hall meeting and released initial findings of July's x-ray screenings. 400 residents signed up for the asbestos testing. Though barely half the results are in so far, findings show some 15 have asbestosis, or lung scarring, & about another 15 show possible signs of cancer. Those numbers are NOT normal, according to Jeffrey Levin, a Specialist at UT's Health Center in Tyler.

Jeffrey Levin, Occupational Medicine Specialist, UT Health Center, Tyler:
Those 15 cases, we wouldn t normally expect to go out on the street and see someone with an asbestos related finding like that.

Zeeble: A barely noticed federal study earlier this decade showed the plant, run by now-bankrupt WR Grace, could've affected nearby residents with asbestos-related illnesses. State representatives Rafael Anchia, Terri Hodge, and Senator Royce West lobbied for state testing funds. West says they got enough for 400 x-ray screenings in the region already infamous for decades of lead pollution from an old smelter here.

Senator Royce West: This section of West Dallas has been the cesspool of environmental injustice.
Zeeble: Parkland Hospital Strategic Planner Brad Walsh says there could yet be thousands more affected by asbestos. He says that many students alone attended Edison and nearby Pinkston High School while the Grace plant operated.

Brad Walsh, Parkland Hospital Strategic Planning office: We're not sure this is the tip of the iceberg or whether we've gotten to the bottom of it and I doubt we've gotten to the bottom yet.

Zeeble: But Senator West says the initial screening money's already spent. It might be tough getting more funds from the legislature next session.

West: However tough it is, we're going to have to do it.

Zeeble: Eartis Palmer grew up around here, and attended Edison decades ago. He's been tested. Wondering if his various health problems could be tied to toxins, he hasn't seen his results yet.

Eartis Palmer, local resident: I'm really kind of scared, cause i don't really know what's going on and I really want to find out.

Zeeble: If his results require further testing or treatment, Palmer's on his own. There's no state money so far. If he qualifies, Parkland Hospital can treat him, or he'll have to rely on his own insurance, if he has any. Justice of the Peace Luis Sepulveda, who made his reputation fighting for the lead clean-up of West Dallas, says the asbestos screening goes only half way.

Luis Sepulveda, Dallas Justice of the Peace: From lead to asbestos, asbestos to metal, arsenic, chromium, zinc, mercury. There's something wrong here. What are we going to do to make them comfortable, compensate them for their remaining years? That's what we should be looking at.

Zeeble: That would take a lawsuit, say Anchia and West. That's why they'll ask the Dallas Bar Association to open up a legal clinic in the neighborhood. Bill Zeeble KERA news.