Miners of Vermiculite & Chrysotile Asbestos Have High Incidence of Asbestos Diseases
Miner's Health Endangered for Financial Gain
Generations of talc miners have been exposed to tremolite asbestos dust in the mines. The level of asbestosis, lung disease, and mesothelioma is high among these workers. Although some talc manufacturers insist that the form of tremolite in talc should not be labeled “asbestos,” the tremolite clearly poses a hazard to miners and their families and may well be harmful to end users.
The first talc mine in upstate New York was opened in 1878. By the end of World War II, other talc mines were active in the area.
R.T. Vanderbilt Co. began talc mining in the 1970s. Internal company documents from that time show that it knew that talc contained asbestos, according to an article in the Seattle Post–Intelligencer. The management chose not to share this information with the workers or the public. R.T. Vanderbilt also did not inform the miners about the prevalence of asbestos–related diseases in the company mine.
Currently, talc is contained in items such as baby powder, cosmetics, and feminine hygiene products. Some of these products are contaminated with asbestos.
Tremolite Asbestos in Vermiculite Mines
Tremolite asbestos is a contaminant of vermiculite—an ore resembling mica that is used in housing insulation (Zonolite), soil conditioners, fertilizers, cement mixtures, and as an ingredient in animal feed (Verxite). From 1924 to 1990, Zonolite mountain in Libby, Montana was the site of a vermiculite mining operation. The mine provided at least 80% of the world’s supply of vermiculite. In one estimate, the ore was sent to more than 60 processing plants in the United States and Canada, where workers became ill with lung–related diseases (Seattle Post–Intelligencer, December 22, 1999).
Many workers in the Zonolite mine were stricken with asbestos–related diseases. Preliminary health screening tests conducted by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry showed that 50% of the vermiculite workers examined had signs of lung scarring. (The Montanian Newspaper, February 28, 2001) But even more shocking is that 25% of those who were not directly involved in vermiculite mining had lung–related health problems. Local physicians and Environmental Protection Agency officials attribute these statistics to asbestos contamination in Libby from the vermiculite mine. The EPA is conducting more studies and sampling at the homes of Libby residents. EPA’s Paul Peronard, the on–site coordinator for the Libby study, has recommended that the town qualify as a Superfund cleanup area.
Libby is not the only locale in which asbestos–contaminated vermiculite has been found. A working vermiculite mine in Louisa, Virginia, owned by Robert Samson of Virginia Vermiculite, sells about 100,000 tons of the material per year (Seattle Post–Intelligencer, October 4, 2000). The Mine Safety and Health Administration performed an analysis of the air in the vermiculite mine that showed the presence of both tremolite and actinolite asbestos fibers. It offered workers free medical testing for asbestos–related diseases.