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West Dallas Residents Get Asbestos Screening

Over the weekend current and former West Dallas residents lined up for a free asbestos screening at Parkland Memorial Hospital. The state-funded screening was setup to determine if people who lived near the Texas Vermiculite plant had signs of asbestos related health problems.

Over 500 people came to the screening, about 200 more than the hospital had been expecting. The overflow forced the hospital to turn them away though they took their names and information should the state add funding for more X-rays.

The plant, owned by W.R. Grace and Co., operated between 1953 and 1992 before it was closed and demolished in 2002. It produced fire-retardant material by refining vermiculite which may have released asbestos fibers into the air around the plant.

In 2005 the federal government determined the plant may have exposed employees and nearby residents to asbestos.

W.R. Grace and Co. has been operating under bankruptcy protection for the last few years as it deals with mounting litigation arising from former employees and residents of Libby, Mont. where vermiculite was heavily mined.

The company is in turmoil as some former executives are facing prosecution and negotiations to set up a victims fund have stalled.

Preliminary results from X-rays taken earlier this year show eight of the first 25 people tested showed signs of asbestos related diseases like mesothelioma and asbestosis.

The plant was one of many industrial facilities operating in this neighborhood. Resident blood samples collected during the 1980s showed extremely high levels of lead and other contaminants. Further testing in 2002 showed a huge decrease but until now the effects of asbestos have yet to be measured.

Neighborhood residents often lived in projects and other low-income housing. Some people described the area as being coated with dust at times but that it wasn't an issue until years later.

In addition to residents, hospital officials urged former employees to be tested as well.

Asbestos related diseases like mesothelioma often take 20-40 years to develop but are almost always fatal because they are caught in their advanced stages. When inhaled, fibers can become trapped in the lungs and lead to scarring which over time can cause severe health problems with significant exposure.