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Local asbestos deaths far above national average, environmental group says

A national environmental group whose goal is to outlaw the use of asbestos said Thursday that asbestos-related deaths in three Western New York counties are far above the national average.

The Environmental Working Group Action Fund, using death reports from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and international studies on lung cancer deaths, concluded that from 1999 to 2013, the annual asbestos-related death rate in Niagara County was 14.5 per 100,000, which, given the county’s population of about 215,000, means that about 31 residents of the county die from asbestos-related illnesses every year.

The national average is 4.9 asbestos-related deaths per 100,000 people, and the New York State average is 4.4.

The yearly average asbestos death rate in Cattaraugus County was 11.6 per 100,000 people during the same 15-year period, and in Erie County, the tally was 8.1 deaths per 100,000 residents. This means that 75 residents in Erie County and nine in Cattaraugus die from asbestos-related causes each year, the report says.

Statewide, Niagara County’s death rate is the highest, with Cattaraugus second and Erie eighth. Niagara County comes in 57th of all the counties nationwide.

“I’m surprised they’re reporting this county, although historically, we have a lot of industry. Asbestos products could have been very common in boiler rooms and places like that,” said Paul R. Dicky, Niagara County’s environmental health director.

The creation of the figures began with official death reports listing mesothelioma, a rare cancer triggered only by exposure to asbestos, and asbestosis, a lung disease also blamed on inhaling asbestos fibers.

The group’s report also included an effort to attribute to asbestos a portion of deaths from lung cancer. The suspected cause of a fatal case of lung cancer is seldom if ever mentioned on a death certificate.

Sonya Lunder of the Environmental Working Group said that although the main cause of lung cancer is smoking, there can be other causes.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a unit of the World Health Organization, said in a 2012 report that there are 3.2 to 4 asbestos-caused lung cancer deaths in America for every death from mesothelioma.

The report asserts there were 12,146 deaths from asbestos-related causes in New York between 1999 and 2013, with three-quarters of those being the estimate of non-mesothelioma lung cancer.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com