Penn Medicine Receives NIH Grant to Help Local Residents Move Forward After Asbestos Exposure

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Media Contact:Katie Delach | Katie.Delach@uphs.upenn.edu | 215-349-5964November 15, 2012

PHILADELPHIA — Just north of Philadelphia, the communities of West and South Ambler are working to recover from the ramifications of their town’s long-closed asbestos factory. Today, residents in these communities remain at risk of environmental exposure and a potentially increased risk of developing mesothelioma, a rare cancer which is caused almost exclusively by exposure to asbestos. To help empower residents to shape the future of their communities, and explain the potential consequences associated with asbestos exposure, researchers at the Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology (CEET), Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, have been awarded a $1.2 million grant to develop an educational program using the communities’ history of asbestos products manufacturing and resulting asbestos exposure. Funding for the program is provided by the Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA), which is administered by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

From the late 1880s through the present day, residents of West and South Ambler, Penna. have had either occupational or environmental exposure to asbestos. As a result, both current and former residents of the area now face potentially serious long-term health consequences. In fact, the Pennsylvania Department of Health has determined that there has been an increase in the rate of mesothelioma in the area compared to Pennsylvania as a whole. While little is known about what this increase means, researchers are hopeful that continued investigation and education will yield more information about health risks to current residents and possible remedies.

“We know there is an existing health risk, but that’s just one piece of the problem; these communities suffered great social and economic consequences when the asbestos factory closed, and today, they are still trying to recover from that loss,” said Frances K. Barg, Ph.D., associate professor of Family Medicine and Community Health, and principal investigator for the project. “Our hope is that this program will help residents to better understand the history of their community through the eyes of those who lived here, while giving them an opportunity to help create a healthier, safer neighborhood.”

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