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Pay Attention To Asbestos Threat

Mar 8, 2004 | Seattle Post Intelligencer The mere mention of asbestos is enough to cause worry. Even so, it's hard to know if homeowners, health authorities and regulators are paying nearly enough attention to its threat.

Because of its extreme cancer-causing risk, asbestos is banned from all but a few consumer products (it ought to be excluded from those as well). But at one time, it was widely used in shipbuilding, home siding and various fireproofing applications. And it remains in millions of buildings.

As the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported last week, a new study identifies King County as having the fourth-highest rate of asbestos-related deaths in the country. A regional concentration of World War II shipyards likely is to blame.

New problems could be developing. By one estimate, a quarter million or more homes in the state could have asbestos-contaminated insulation. Nationwide, up to 30 millions homes have insulation with contaminated material from the W.R. Grace Co.'s now-closed mine in Libby, Mont.

The Environmental Protection Agency has undertaken steps to inform homeowners of the risks that may be associated with asbestos, particularly if it's disturbed. Most public health authorities don't see the collection of asbestos-related health data as a high priority. But with the material still in millions of homes, public officials must watch carefully to see how much of the asbestos suffering lies behind us and how much we might still prevent.

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