Video: Neighborhood health risk

NBC News correspondent
updated 5/2/2005 7:36:06 PM ET 2005-05-02T23:36:06

This affluent community near Sacramento has upscale neighborhoods, a gracious lifestyle and technicians from the Environmental Protection Agency on the grounds of Oakridge High School. Video handed out by the EPA shows them wearing biohazard suits, kicking up dust and taking samples.

Their findings were reported Monday: Asbestos, which occurs naturally in the soil here, could pose a long-term health risk.

"It can lead to non-cancer diseases such as asbestosis, as well as some cancers such as lung cancer and mesothemioma," says the EPA's Dan Meer.

Even before Monday's report, the school spent $2.5 million either covering every bit of exposed earth with a hard surface or trucking in clean soil for the playing fields.

But a teacher at the school still wonders if a spot recently found on his lungs is related.

"I've never been a smoker, so I was just concerned," says Stan Iverson. "And I coached for many years on the fields here."

The worst case of naturally-occurring asbestos in the United States is Libby, Mont., where hundreds of miners died in the 1980s and '90s from breathing daily doses of the mineral's fibers.

People in this California community are quick to point out that not one case of illness or death has been linked to asbestos.

"It is a concern, but I'm not going to jump on the wagon and run out of town because of it," says El Dorado Hills resident Amy McCurdy.

But because the illness can take 50 years to strike, Laurie Lindley-Muender worries for her two children.

"I always thought our government would protect us," she says. "And I feel really violated because the government, the county, did not stop the development from happening when they knew they hit a vein. And they jeopardized our family's health."

A community meeting is planned for May 6 to answer residents' questions, but it could be decades before the most important answer is known: What harm, if any, has asbestos done to the people who call this place home?

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