Asbestos Deaths Hit Area Hard
ASBESTOS STUDY: Lake, Porter counties in top five in state; Cook County No. 2 in nationJan 1, 2002 | Munster Times For two years, Robert Rhodes of Crown Point and his family knew asbestos-related cancer would claim his life and could do nothing about it.
Now Rhodes' daughter and son-in-law, Laura and James Trinkle, of LaPorte, hope a national study released Thursday will convince federal lawmakers to completely ban the substance long associated with Mesothilioma the disease that killed Rhodes at age 64 and to ensure that others who develop the cancer are protected under the law.
"It's like he was taken from us like we were robbed," said James Trinkle, 47.
The study, by Washington-based Environmental Working Group, shows Rhodes was just one of at least 72 people in Lake County who died of an asbestos-related illness since 1979 the most of any single Indiana county. By comparison in Marion County the state's most populated county at least 65 people died from such illnesses. Porter County, with 19 deaths, ranked fifth in the state.
Cook County had the second-highest number of asbestos-related deaths at least 633 out of any other county in the country. Los Angeles County led the way with at least 846 deaths.
Health officials attribute the high numbers in the region to the concentration of heavy industry, which has used asbestos as an insulator because of its resistance to burning at high temperatures.
The study culled more than 20 years of federal mortality records to show that asbestos-related deaths claim about 10,000 Americans each year and will continue to do so for the next decade.
Sponsors of the study said the problem has not shown signs of getting better, despite knowledge since the 1960s and '70s that asbestos is harmful to the health of those exposed to it.
The EPA reports that hundreds of products, including some hair dryers, broilers, deep fryers and slow cookers, still contain the hazardous substance. It is most prevalent in flame-resistant roofing and brakes, which still are manufactured with asbestos.
Rhodes' family believes he may have contracted the disease, which can take up to 50 years to manifest itself, while working as an operator for a large region steelmaker. As part of his work, Rhodes wore asbestos-insulated gloves and was exposed to furnaces that contained the substance, James Trinkle said.
"This is a public health epidemic," said Richard Wiles, a researcher and lead author of the study. "We took a new look at an old subject and found that asbestos is not an economic issue but a public health crisis one that has yet to reach its peak."