Asbestos Worries Grow in the Wealthy Sacramento Foothills

This 2007 article from popular watchdog journalism site Mother Jones chronicles the town of El Dorado Hills, Calif. – a wealthy, conservative bedroom community in the Central Valley foothills outside Sacramento. Like many of these wealthy suburbs, incredible growth has taken place in recent times to support California’s burgeoning population (the population has doubled to 35,000 in only ten years).

When most think of asbestos exposure on a town-wide level, the first place that typically comes to mind is the small town of Libby, Mont. – where the W.R. Grace mine exposed an entire town to the deadly affects of asbestos inhalation. Not much has been made of communities that lie within naturally occurring asbestos deposits. California is littered with such deposits (serpentine – a primary source of asbestos – is the state rock). However, such growth and high quality of life has made it hard for many in the town to come to terms with a recently discovered fact that the town was built on massive deposits of Tremolite – a naturally occurring form of asbestos.

When concerned citizen Terry Trent unearthed a large deposit in his own backyard, worry among residents began to spread as to the impact it could have on residents’ health, but on the future of El Dorado Hills as a town. Despite efforts from town leaders to prevent it, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) descended on the town for tests – finding asbestos fibers in nearly every one of the 400 air samples taken throughout town. Yet this didn’t stop construction or begin a mass-exodus, and the town continues to grow to day – with residents strangely comforted by the fact that town leaders are downplaying the seriousness of such findings. 

One local interviewed even calls it a government conspiracy that El Dorado Hills was picked because of its conservative Republican politics and that the EPA needed a new place to target now that efforts in Libby are dying down.

“They don’t want this stuff to exist; therefore, they put their heads in the sand,” Trent said.

With many trying to justify their skepticism by pointing out no abnormalities in pulmonary diseases in the town, it seems few understand the 30-40 year latency period asbestos diseases such as malignant mesothelioma have before one feels the effects. Being such a new community, little in the way of data can really show the long-term effects of living in such a community. Yet, those informed on the subject of asbestos realize the danger, even if residents don’t.

One epidemiologist said, “You can certainly say people are going to die, and there are going to be increased cases of cancer,” adding, “I wouldn’t live there. I wouldn’t want my family to live there.”