Asbestos removal efforts are underway in the North Carolina city of Davidson. But even as the work promises to make the city safer, it also reminds us of an unfortunate truth. Asbestos removal can be expensive. That means people who live in low-income neighborhoods often find themselves at greater risk of asbestos exposure.
According to Charlotte’s NPR news source, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found unsafe levels of asbestos in 11 of the 136 properties it tested from Davidson’s West Side. The reports claim the carcinogenic mineral entered the area from an old mill that worked with asbestos for several decades.
Twin problems for people living in low-income neighborhoods
The Davidson cleanup effort reveals two ways that neighborhoods suffer toxic exposure differently based on income levels:
- People in low-income areas often struggle to pay for the removal of toxic substances
- Low-income areas often exist in the fall-out from industrial mills, plants and other sources of toxic waste
The result, as noted by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is that residents may suffer. They are more likely to suffer exposure to many toxic substances, including asbestos.
This exposure may result from aging buildings. The EPA claims that building materials that contain asbestos don’t present a threat while they remain intact. However, when these materials age and break down, they can release their fibers into the air. Residents can breathe them in or absorb them through their skin. And the danger is greater in low-income areas because homeowners may not be able to pay for removal. The HHS said it cost an average of $1,800 to remove asbestos from a home in 2017. Those who live in apartments aren’t necessarily safe either. Landlords face the same economic pressures.
But the HHS points out that buildings aren’t the only source of concern. Low-income neighborhoods are often located near industrial buildings that pump out pollutants. In Davidson, these pollutants included asbestos. Asbestos waste was used as fill in yards, driveways and the neighborhood park. Testing and removal could cost millions of dollars. Similar work in 2017 resulted in the removal of more than six-thousand tons of soil, cleanups at 32 homes and more than $3 million in cleanup bills.
Hard choices for homeowners
All of this leads to tough choices for families looking to balance large, unplanned costs against their long-term health. And the problem is often made worse by the fact that asbestos exposure doesn’t lead to early symptoms. Instead, people may continue exposing themselves, unaware, until the fibers cause a disease like mesothelioma or asbestosis.
The cleanup in Davidson may remind us how some people face tough choices, but it is ultimately good news for those who live there. The cleanup should make the area safer, and the EPA promises to leave everything in equal or better shape after the work.