Poor Control of Asbestos Contamination Linked to Increase in Asbestos Diseases
January 20, 2009 - Tensions between state health officials and residents of Eden and Lowell, Vermont are on the rise over a health report concerning the safety of the closed asbestos mine on Belvidere Mountain. The Vermont Health Department studied the health records and death certificates from 1995 to 2006 of the 13 towns within a 10 mile radius of the Belvidere asbestos mine. In a report following the study, the Health Department concluded that residents who lived near the mine had a higher-than-normal rate of contracting or dying from asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis. The original study also cited a cluster of lung cancer cases as another indication of a higher occurrence of asbestos-related diseases within the area. A revision to the original report indicated that incidents of asbestos lung cancer were no higher than the remainder of the state; prompting an angry response from citizens that felt the misleading report adversely affected the value of their property.
Closed Vermont Mine Still a Public Health Hazard
The main concern is a huge tailings pile-estimated to be about 30 million tons-left behind from past mining. The state has spent close to $200,000 assessing and containing the contamination. In the last year, the EPA spent about $2 million to keep the tailings from damaging nearby waterways. But the state estimates the total cost could reach $240 million. It has sued Vermont Asbestos Group (VAG), the site's current owner, and filed a claim in court against the G-I Holdings bankruptcy to the cover the cleanup costs. G-I Holdings (fka GAF Corporation) owned the mine from 1936 to 1975. The federal government has filed a separate claim.
The overall message from the Vermont Health Department is not new-asbestos is dangerous. Exposure to asbestos is the cause behind asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis, mesothelioma and asbestos-related lung cancer. Occupational studies have linked the work of asbestos miners to the development of asbestos-related diseases, with high rates of mesothelioma in Minnesota's Iron Range miners and Montana's vermiculite mines. The effects of asbestos mines spread further than just the employee's health, as evidenced by Libby, Montana, being listed as an EPA Superfund site and mine operator W.R. Grace sued for $250 million to help offset the cost of the cleanup.
For further information about the Vermont Department of Health Study and the areas affected by the mine, please view the following:
- Vermont Asbestos Group Mine Study
- Map of Towns Near the Mine Site
- Vermont Asbestos Group Site Chronology
- University of Vermont-Vermont Mining History