WASHINGTON D.C. – Federal regulators have levied fines totaling $170,000 against the U.S. Steel Corporation for exposing workers to asbestos at the company’s Coke Works facility in Clairton, Pa., according the following statement the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued Monday:
“During the first week of February 2016, at the company’s coke production facility in Pittsburgh, five workers removed and replaced packing material containing asbestos at the direction of the company. In March 2016, OSHA found two other employees had burned and removed a rotted section of expansion pipe at the company’s direction. The pipe later tested positive for asbestos.”
Aside from the much more populous states of California and Florida, Pennsylvania has seen more of its people get sick and die from asbestos-triggered diseases than the remaining 47 states, with more than 14,200 deaths between 1999 and 2013, as reported by EWG Action Fund.
Allegheny County tops the state’s counties with the most deaths at 1,616 over the same period. While the annual mortality rate from asbestos diseases nationwide is 4.9 deaths for every 100,000, it’s 7.5 for Pennsylvania and is nearly double the national average in Allegheny County at 8.5.
“While many Americans, including residents of Pennsylvania, may think asbestos is no longer a threat to people, this situation at the Coke Works plant clearly shows the risks are still very much real,” said EWG Action Fund’s Vice President for Strategic Campaigns Alex Formuzis.
Asbestos diseases account for up to 15,000 deaths each year in the U.S., and more than 900 annually in Pennsylvania, Formuzis added.
While the use of asbestos has declined sharply since its health risks became clear in the late 1970s, asbestos remains legal and is still used by certain industries. Allegheny County was a major manufacturing hub during the 20th century where asbestos was used in products manufactured in the region, which likely accounts for the elevated mortality numbers.
U.S. Steel employees’ exposure to asbestos earlier this year shows that workers continue to face threats in 2016, decades after the science was settled on asbestos’ serious health risks for people.
President Obama recently signed legislation to update the woefully inadequate 1976 version of the Toxic Substances Control Act. The new version could give the Environmental Protection Agency authority to finally ban asbestos, which it has been unable to do thus far.
But in Pennsylvania, the state legislature is considering legislation that would make it much harder for current and future victims of asbestos-caused diseases to obtain compensation for their injuries.
The Fairness in Claims and Transparency Act, also known as H.B.1428, introduced in June 2015 by Rep. Warren Kampf, R-Dist. 157, would force plaintiffs and their attorneys to maneuver through a series of laborious and unnecessary legal hurdles, and grant the industry enormous power.
Specifically, H.B. 1428 would:
- Force plaintiffs to disclose confidential settlement negotiations;
- Allow asbestos defendant companies the authority to delay litigation, which would see many victims succumb to their illnesses before their day in court; and
- Severely revise time-honored tort law to let asbestos corporations responsible for poisoning the plaintiffs off the hook.
EWG Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) organization that is a separate sister organization of the Environmental Working Group. The mission of EWG Action Fund is to protect health and the environment by educating the public and lobbying on a wide range of environmental issues. Donations to EWG Action Fund are not tax-deductible.