MAC: Mines and Communities

London Calling on a deadly transatlantic betrayal

Published by MAC on 2009-11-16
Source: Nostromo Research

Asbestos and the poisonous legacy of Ambler

Last week, the world's biggest public health organisation, US-based APHA, called on Congress to ban all manufacture, use of, and trading in, asbestos and related products.

This will add considerable weight to similar calls for total outlawing of one of the world's most poisonous substances, causing two of its most critical diseases - asbestosis and mesothelioma. (Arguably, silicosis, resulting from quarrying, gold mining, gem manufacture and other mining-related activities, may wreak a greater toll.)

In welcoming APHA's resolution, an organisation of US victims of asbestosis and mesothelioma, singles out just one contaminated site as "still plagued from asbestos piles left behind from the once profitable asbestos businesses."

That site is Ambler, in Pennsylvania.

Declares the California-based Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO): "We can't let history repeat itself."

Indeed, we can't. But we also need to better understand that sorry history - and Ambler is as good as any place to start.

For the saga is certainly not over yet.

Ambler and the British Connection

In 1881, the Keasbey and Mattison Company, whose business included the manufacture of asbestos, moved into Ambler township. It dumped solid asbestos wastes in the town's environs, and pumped liquid slurries into constructed cinder berms which were allowed to dry.

Following the Great Depression, in 1934 the Ambler operations were sold to the London-listed company, Turner & Newhall (T&N), which operated the factory until its closure in 1962.

However, it took another twenty years before T&N ceased working with asbestos, even though its deadly impacts were already very well known. In 1996, T&N initiated a re-insurance scheme to save itself from swingeing claims by asbestos-poisoned former workers. Two years later, the UK firm was "rescued" by Federal-Mogul, a US automotive supplier, which bought T&N's assets then successfully filed for bankruptcy in its home country, due to inherited asbestos liabilities.

T&N also went into administration, and re-constituted itself into a UK car parts company. But some 40,000 of its benighted workers remained stranded, without receiving anything approaching adequate compensation for their asbestos-related diseases.

Initial investigations by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had shown that Ambler's air, groundwater, soil, sediments, and surface water were all contaminated with asbestos . The agency placed the site on its "Superfund" list for urgent clean-up and remediation.

Six thousand people at risk

Even so, the total volume of asbestos-contaminated waste is estimated still to exceed 1½ million cubic yards. Around 6,000 people live within a half-mile of these piles, and the nearest residence is less than 200 feet way. A creek, called Wissahickon, together with its flood plain, border the site.

Surprisingly, in March 2009, the EPA Region 3 (Mid-Atlantic) announced that it had actually completed cleanup on August 30, 1993 - no less than 16 years before. The EPA claimed that: "Human health threats and potential environmental impacts have been minimized, and the site was removed from the National Priorities List, EPA's list of Superfund sites, December 27, 1996." (Ironically, this was the year that T&N frantically searched for a means of escaping its responsibilities to former workers.)

Following a September 2007 review, the Agency certified that "the cleanup remedy implemented at [Ambler] continues to be protective of human health and the environment."

A "cleanup"  that cannot be enforced

However, the EPA also recognised that "... there are no legally enforceable institutional controls on the site to prevent future disturbances to the constructed caps and erosion controls."

Moreover, shortly after this announcement, a 35-acre parcel of asbestos-contaminated land, that includes Ambler and two other nearby locations nearby, was announced as a new "Superfund site".

The site obviously continues presenting a "clear and present danger" to those living around it.

But  the former directors of T&N - one of the most commercially successful UK  firms of its kind in the 1960s and seventies -  will never risk being called to court, or to account, for their derelictions.

[Sources: Roger Moody "The Risks We Run", International Books, 2005, pps 54-55; wikipedia on Ambler and Turner and Newall; EPA ID# PAD000436436, EPA website, March 2009; New Superfund site at Ambler, Philadelphia Enquirer, 9 April 2009]

APHA Passes Landmark Asbestos Ban Resolution

ADAO & APHA Press Release

11 November 2009

The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization Applauds American Public Health Association's Call for Ban on Asbestos, Annual Warnings for Workers in High-Risk Occupations

ADAO & APHA Urge Congress to Pass Legislation Banning Asbestos

The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) applauds the American Public Health Association (APHA), the largest and most diverse public health organization in the world. APHA adopted a resolution, calling on Congress to pass legislation banning the manufacture, sale, export, or import of asbestos containing products including products in which asbestos is a contaminant. Asbestos, a known carcinogen, annually claims the lives of more than 10,000 Americans.

"With this new policy, APHA is joining the World Federation of Public Health Associations and other international organizations calling for a global ban on asbestos mining, and manufacturing, and the dangerous practice of exporting asbestos containing products," said Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH, Chair of APHA's Occupational Health and Safety section. "As the World Health Organization noted in 2006, the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos related diseases is to stop using all types of asbestos."

"ADAO applauds APHA for passage of the landmark Elimination of Asbestos Resolution," said Linda Reinstein, Executive Director and Co-founder of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization. "APHA set a precedent with strong language aimed at preventing asbestos exposure to eliminate deadly diseases. Ambler, Pennsylvania - now a superfund site - is still plagued from asbestos piles left behind from the once profitable asbestos businesses. We can't let history repeat itself - it is time to ban asbestos and fund educational and research programs. APHA renews our optimism that a federal asbestos ban is eminent."


About the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO)

Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) was founded by asbestos victims and their families in 2004. ADAO seeks to give asbestos victims and concerned citizens a united voice to help ensure that their rights are fairly represented and protected, while raising public awareness about the dangers of asbestos exposure and often deadly asbestos related diseases. ADAO is an independent volunteer organization. For more information visit

About the American Public Health Association (APHA)

Founded in 1872, the APHA is the oldest, largest and most diverse organization of public health professionals in the world. The association aims to protect all Americans and their communities from preventable, serious health threats and strives to assure community-based health promotion and disease prevention activities and preventive health services are universally accessible in the United States. APHA represents a broad array of health providers, educators, environmentalists, policy-makers and health officials at all levels working both within and outside governmental organizations and educational institutions. More information is available at:

Media Contacts:

Doug Larkin
Director of CommunicationsAsbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO)
Phone: (202) 391-1546

Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH
Chair, Occupational Health & Safety Section
American Public Health AssociationPhone: (202) 994-0774


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