Factories located at Ambler began manufacturing asbestos insulation as far back as 1897. That was long before anyone had a clue about the dangers and hazards of asbestos. While information about the carcinogenic properties of asbestos began to surface in the early 1900s, it wouldn’t be until the 1970s before society finally caught on, and began scaling back its use.
The factories at Ambler have long since closed and ceased production. However, health advocates are concerned that the legacy of asbestos remains, potentially impacting the health of the community for some time to come, given the long latency period of asbestosis and mesothelioma.
Back in the day Ambler, Pennsylvania, was asbestos central. According to an in-depth report in The Philadelphia Inquirer (10/19/14), piles of asbestos waste would accumulate on factory grounds, dubbed by the locals as “the white mountains of Ambler.” Kids would slide down them in summer on flattened cardboard boxes as they might on a ski hill in winter aboard a toboggan. One of the asbestos “mountains” was 92 feet high. Children would regularly play around them.
Joe and Pete Amento grew up in Ambler. Their father worked at the asbestos factory, and eventually died of asbestosis disease. Their mother died from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Pete’s brother Joe never worked at the factory himself. But he did play around those asbestos piles when he was a kid and eventually became a lifelong resident of Ambler, until he died at 53. According to the report, he enjoyed a nice Christmas with his family in December 2002. The next month a pain in his side started keeping him up at night. He was diagnosed with asbestosis disease in March 2003 and was dead by August, just eight months after first experiencing that fateful pain in his side. Joe Amento’s widow brought an asbestosis lawsuit and settled her asbestosis claim for an undisclosed amount.
Today, as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) works with other groups to clean up the sites, they are also trying to mine data and just what kind of an impact the Ambler factories and all that asbestos floating around may have had on the community, both previously and going forward.
So far the data is chilling, according to the Inquirer report. Health officials examining data from 1992 through 2008 found there were 28 cases of mesothelioma amongst residents within the Ambler zip code. Statistically, a population of that size - 30,000 - should have just three cases.
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The report suggests there are public areas and even playgrounds within a few blocks of the former factory site. A dirt-encased pile of asbestos waste remains just behind a local fast-food restaurant. The EPA and the community would like to clean up the sites, but are unsure as to how to protect the town from free-floating asbestos fibers that may get into the air during the remediation process, if it ever moves forward.
In the meantime, many an asbestosis attorney knows all about Ambler, Pennsylvania. And they’re watching…