Ambler, Pennsylvania, is a small town near Philadelphia. Like other towns in the United States, it carries a deadly burden and legacy.
The historic town, originally called Wissahickon for the railroad depot, served as stop on the North Pennsylvania Railroad. Soon after being renamed to Ambler, the industry that would define the town arrived in 1881.
Keasbey and Mattison Company moved from Philadelphia and began its business in Ambler, including manufacturing asbestos. After many profitable years, the Great Depression hit hard, resulting in Turner & Newhall taking over production.
Everything changed when the world learned about the dangers of asbestos, causing the factories to cease production and companies to file bankruptcy. Now a town built on the success of asbestos is dealing with the long-term consequences.
Labeled a Superfund Site, Ambler Asbestos was cleaned up by 1993, but it wasn’t the only site. It would take almost 15 years before authorities would recognize the danger of the other site and choose to bury the 25-foot tall pile of asbestos waste material.
Asbestos products had many different uses, including insulation, building materials and roofing. Children in the area used to sled ride down the asbestos pile in summer with no awareness of the consequences.
These consequences include many asbestos cancers, including lung cancer, and asbestos related-diseases. Mesothelioma is a cancer of the pleura of lung with only one known cause – asbestos exposure. The latency period is decades, causing fear and uncertainty from Ambler residents who grew up working in or living near the asbestos factories.
In a study of 1992 to 2008, officials found of the 30,000 living in the Ambler area, there were 28 cases of mesothelioma, almost 10 more than typical for that population size. Other diseases, like asbestosis, were also more common. From this data, researchers found another unsettling statistic. Although they didn’t work in the plants, there were more cases of women with mesothelioma than men.
As more studies are done and the EPA attempts to contain the sites, the residents can only wait for the possible diagnoses and fight for better efforts to rid their area of past corporation mistakes with asbestos.
- Sandy Bauers, “Penn study to track Ambler’s asbestos legacy,” Philly.com (Oct. 20, 2014). [Link]
- Wikipedia, “Ambler, Pennsylvania,” (Oct. 30, 2014). [Link]