“Killer in the Attic” News Series Emphasizes Dangers of Asbestos Exposure

Andrew Schneider has written a 4-part series for AOL News focusing on the dangers of asbestos-riddled zonolite insulation and the massive failure of the EPA to inform and protect the public. It’s called “Killer in the Attic.”

You may recall that Schneider, a former Post-Dispatch reporter, helped break the Libby story. More on him below. In the article Dr. Miller, former medical director for the EPA, issues a powerful statement about how children can be exposed to asbestos:

“It’s particularly important to understand the risks for children who have higher breathing rates and will inhale more of the fibers,” said Miller, a father of two. “Children, especially young ones, tend to spend much of their time on the floor playing with the ornaments and toys, breathing the asbestos-contaminated dust, and have many years for the asbestos fibers that lodge in their lungs to eventually cause disease.”

In the second part of the series, the story covers an EPA investigation that details how mundane activities like sweeping the floor or just watching TV can spread dangerous Zonolite insulation fibers through an older home. Miller, once again, issued a powerful statement highlighting the silent dangers of asbestos exposure.

“The asbestos levels found in the testing and sampling of the Pueblo house were very high and just makes many of us even more concerned about the hazards that exist in millions of other homes where people have no clue about the danger from Zonolite in their attics,” Dr. Aubrey Miller told AOL News.

The third installment recaps the Libby, Mont. story but provides fresh insight into how the EPA approached the environmental disaster. Schneider writes that an EPA boss sent three agents to the town after his initial story appeared, not to help the residents, but to disprove his report that thousands of people were dying from exposure to the mine’s asbestos.

Instead, they found that the tragedy was true. What’s more disturbing in this new article is Schneider’s revelation that the EPA knew that the insulation could possibly kill people 17 years before the first story was reported. He writes:

“The agency had hired a group of scientists to evaluate the amount of asbestos exposure received by miners on Zonolite Mountain, the people of Libby and those who worked and lived near the hundreds of vermiculite-processing plants Grace had built throughout the country.

The EPA contractors measured wind direction and speed, the volume of dust thrown into the air and proximity to the processing plants. They turned in a lengthy, detailed report showing that thousands of people were likely receiving asbestos exposure that could sicken if not kill them.

But the agency apparently stuck the report in a file at its Washington headquarters, never once warning anyone of the dangers. It was three months after the EPA team arrived in Libby that a researcher found a copy of the 1982 report…”

The final installment covers how politics have
prevented a total ban on asbestos. The EPA and other organizations have repeatedly implanted bans – the most recent effort conducted by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. – but they’ve been watered down because of lobbying efforts by the corporations who poisoned so many people. Schnedier provided insight into

“Some Senate staffers — those who do the behind-the-scenes, but vital, machinations that get legislation to the floor for a vote — privately admitted that corporate campaigning against the proposed ban was intense and consistent…

…The why was simple, senior staff members privately said, explaining that billions of dollars were in play. Insurance and actuarial firms projected that trial lawyers will eventually file suits on behalf of almost 1.5 million people injured or killed by exposure to asbestos. That could cost the industries that sold or used asbestos in their products as much as $300 billion in settlements.”

To read the full series click here.

About Schneider
“For more than a decade, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Andrew Schneider has followed the saga of the tiny town of Libby, Mont., the asbestos-tainted vermiculite that was mined there and W.R. Grace, the company that shipped the lethal ore throughout the world. Schneider broke the story while with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and followed it in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and The Baltimore Sun. Schneider and David McCumber authored “An Air That Kills.” In this four-part report, AOL News’ senior public health reporter examines the government’s history of neglect in informing the public about the dangers of a killer than lurks in the attics and walls of millions of homes.”

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