Investigating Off-Site Impacts At Asbestos Mine
State officials today reiterated the immediate need for additional investigation of the impact of the Vermont Asbestos Group mine in Eden and Lowell in light of a new Department of Health report that found a potential for increased asbestos-related health risks for people who have lived nearby.
Vermont is pursuing all available avenues to control the environmental and health impacts of the mine, said Human Services Secretary Cynthia D. LaWare and Natural Resources Secretary George R. Crombie, and is working closely with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice.
The federal agencies are acting on two fronts. EPA is in the early stages of evaluating the VAG site for potential listing on the Superfund National Priorities List (NPL), which would make it eligible for federal funding for a comprehensive cleanup of the site. EPA is also seeking a federal court order against the parties responsible for the contamination to require immediate steps to abate the current risks. In August, following the state’s request for assistance, EPA completed a $2 million cleanup effort to reduce the offsite migration of asbestos-laden tailings.
The Vermont Department of Health has completed a preliminary epidemiological analysis that suggests a potential risk of increased asbestos-related illnesses. A major limitation of the study is the lack of information about an individual’s exposure — whether people inhaled asbestos, and if so, where and in what setting, how much, over how many years and other determining factors. The study cannot determine the source of illness, or if exposure to asbestos continues.
“Our findings are statistically significant and cautionary, but we need to know more,” said Health Commissioner Wendy Davis, MD. “It is extremely important that Vermonters stay off the mine, and we recommend that you contact your health care provider if you are concerned that you may have been exposed to asbestos.”
The Health Department’s analysis of hospital discharge records, Vermont Cancer Registry data and death certificates for the years 1996 to 2005 found statistically significant associations between illness — asbestosis and lung cancer — and residence in towns within a 10-mile radius of the mine.
Towns included in the study were: Albany, Belvidere, Craftsbury, Eden, Hyde Park, Irasburg, Johnson, Lowell, Montgomery, Newport Town, Troy, Waterville and Westfield.
“In light of this new information from the Health Department, we intend to aggressively pursue all available resources to ensure we continue to thoroughly investigate all environmental and health concerns,” said LaWare. “The report makes clear that a more comprehensive, in-depth health risk assessment must be conducted.”
As the assessment work is carried out, the Health Department strongly recommends that people and their pets stay off the inactive mine, which closed in 1993, to minimize direct exposure to the asbestos tailing piles. Despite posted “No Trespassing” signs, the mine has been routinely accessed by the public for recreational use, such as collecting rocks and geological artifacts, skiing, hiking, hunting and riding all-terrain vehicles. Trespassing on the site also poses a high risk for injury due to the instability of the tailing piles.
The Agency of Natural Resources began investigating the site in 2004 and has conducted biological and chemical assessments of 23 locations within the two affected watersheds as well as additional sediment and water sampling downstream from previous study locations.
“We have requested that EPA and other federal agencies take the lead in continuing to address the environmental and health impacts of the mine,” said Crombie. “This is a high priority for us. The immediate measures to address the health risks and the long-term cleanup of this site will require significant financial resources, and we support the Department of Justice’s efforts to also bring in the parties responsible for creating the mess.”
The U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday filed pleadings in federal district court in New Jersey, seeking injunctive relief against G-1 Holdings, the former owner of the Vermont Asbestos Group mine in Eden and Lowell, seeking, among other things, additional investigation into the potential impacts of asbestos on locations off of the mine property. The Health Department report was included in this filing.
This is the latest in a series of efforts by state and federal agencies to pursue all available resources for the cleanup of the now-closed mine. The Attorney General’s Office has already filed suit against the current owner in state court.
Officials from the Department of Health and Agency of Natural Resources will meet with local select boards in coming weeks and plan to hold community meetings in early December.