El Dorado Hills’ Asbestos Problem
El Dorado Hills, 22 miles east of Sacramento, California, is a seemingly normal town with good schools, nice golf courses, and gated communities. It is one of the fastest growing areas in California, but it has one problem: naturally occurring asbestos. Most people were unaware of the asbestos lurking underneath the town until a resident found a vein of amphibole, one of the more dangerous types of asbestos, when digging in his back yard. He went to the local papers to spread the word, but it only created a small public outcry and nothing came of it. In 2004 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) came to the town to take realistic air samples. They simulated children’s activity by throwing a baseball, kicking soccer balls, riding bikes, and running in the park and right after, took air samples. Asbestos was also found during the construction of the local high school’s soccer field. After it was found, a resident asked the EPA to test surfaces in the town for asbestos. The superintendent wrote to the EPA, senators, and congressmen questioning if the EPA had the legal and scientific authority to conduct a “science experiment that has little benefit to residents.” Due to this, the EPA was pressured to not designate the area as a Superfund site.
In 2005 the EPA announced its findings- almost all of the 400 air samples taken at the park, hiking trail, and three school yards contained tremolite asbestos, one of the most dangerous types. The long thin strands get wedged in lungs for a longer period of time, making it easier for them to give someone cancer. The asbestos levels were so high in the town that a Canadian epidemiologist who reviewed the information said the levels were similar to asbestos mining towns where mining had occurred for a century. He also said the asbestos levels were going to cause people to die and increase the town’s cases of cancer, making him not want to live there.
Even with all the reports by the EPA, some of the townspeople and residents of El Dorado Hills were in denial about the dangers of living there. A study came out from the UC Davis Department of Public Health Sciences that looked at addresses of mesothelioma patients in California and compared them to a geological map of the state. They found that the risk of cancer was linked to how close the patients lived to asbestos containing rocks. The risk of getting an asbestos related cancer dropped one percent for every mile someone moved away from the asbestos. When this study was mentioned to the county supervisor of El Dorado Hills, he responded saying there are studies that counter UC Davis’s study. The school superintendent then hired the Stone, Sand, and Gravel Association which hired the R.J. Lee Group to scrutinize the EPA’s data (president of R.J. Lee Richard Lee has been paid $7 million for testifying more than 250 times for the asbestos industry). R.J. Lee declared that the EPA was wrong about asbestos in the town because what was studied was not the proper size and had too much aluminum. The EPA and R.J. Lee went back and forth a couple more times with the EPA saying R.J. Lee’s report violated generally accepted scientific principles and R.J. lee saying there were factual misstatements in the EPA’s response. Finally, the EPA asked the U.S. Geological Survey to do testing, which concluded that “material that can be classified as tremolite asbestos is in El Dorado Hills.” Despite all this evidence, people continue to live in El Dorado Hills.
If you have been exposed to asbestos and now have mesothelioma or lung cancer you may be entitled to compensation. Call our firm at 412-471-3980 or fill out our contact form to speak to an attorney and learn your options.
Randall Patterson, “Not in Their Back Yard” Mother Jones (May/June 2007). [Link]