Hospital in Dallas Screens Hundreds for Asbestos Diseases

Grant from State Not Enough to Cover all in Need of Asbestos Screening

DALLAS, TX - July 27, 2007 - Parkland Hospital recently provided free asbestos screenings to community residents who lived near a former vermiculite plant that was contaminated with asbestos. Although 500 people showed up for the free x-rays, only 300 received the tests, which were funded by a $250,000 grant from the state.

"We're very concerned about this population and want to make sure we get them in for care," said Brad Walsh, a project director at the hospital (Dallas Morning News, July 19, 2007). The screening was open to former plant workers, their families, and those who lived or worked within a quarter mile of the former West Dallas vermiculite plant located on Manila Road. Last May, the hospital screened 25 neighborhood residents, and found that eight showed signs of asbestos disease.

W.R. Grace owned and operated the vermiculite plant from 1953-1992. During that time period, the facility received 396,000 tons of asbestos-contaminated vermiculite shipped from the company's mine in Libby, Montana. Vermiculite is an ore used to make potting soils and insulation. During the manufacturing process, vermiculite is "popped" or "exfoliated" at high temperatures so that it expands, releases water and forms a lightweight, fire-resistant material. Asbestos is also released during this process if the vermiculite is contaminated. The W.R. Grace plant made soil mixtures, spray-applied fireproofing and concrete aggregate products using asbestos-containing vermiculite.

After the vermiculite plant shut down, the Environmental Protection Agency conducted site visits and took samples. In 2005, the federal government issued a detailed report about the facility. It found:

  • Former vermiculite plant workers were most at risk for asbestos exposure.
  • Those who lived with former workers from 1953-1992 may have been exposed to asbestos by workers carrying home asbestos fibers on their clothing.
  • Waste rock, a by-product of vermiculite exfoliation, was often brought home by employees to use in their gardens and as fill or driveway surfacing material. People may have been exposed to asbestos if they handled or played in the waste rock.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry published the study on its web site.