15 Linked to Dallas Plant Show Signs of Asbestos Illnesses

At least 15 people who worked at or lived near a West Dallas, Texas, vermiculite plant suffer from symptoms of asbestos-related illnesses, according to preliminary findings from X-ray screenings.

Doctors at UT Health Center at Tyler have so far analyzed about 250 of 421 chest X-rays conducted this summer on ex-employees of the Texas Vermiculite plant, as well as their families. Neighborhood residents and former students at nearby schools also received X-rays.

Fifteen people, or about 6 percent of those so far analyzed, show signs of asbestos-related illnesses. A few more showed spots on their lungs that will require additional study, doctors said.

“I think it’s pretty alarming,” said Dr. Ron Anderson, president and chief executive of Parkland Health and Hospital System.

A $250,000 state grant covers the cost of the X-rays.

In 2005, the federal government determined that the Texas Vermiculite plant could have exposed its employees and neighbors to asbestos. It produced fire-retardant materials extracted from vermiculite. The process released asbestos fibers, which are small enough to be inhaled, into the air and the surrounding area.

Human exposure to the fibers increases the risk of lung cancer and other disorders, including asbestosis, a condition that makes breathing difficult. Most cases occur 15 or more years after initial exposure.

W.R. Grace & Co. operated the plant from 1953 to 1992 before it was demolished between 2001 and 2002.

Health officials screened 25 people with chest X-rays in May. Eight of them showed signs of asbestos-related disease. Further testing is needed to confirm those results.

Information from: The Dallas Morning News, www.dallasnews.com