Environmental Hazard  

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



People who live near sites where asbestos was processed or mined are at higher risk of contracting asbestos-related diseases. In the paper The Relationship Between Malignant Mesothelioma and an Asbestos Cement Plant Environmental Risk: a Spatial Case Control Study in the City of Bari (Italy,)1 M. Musti, et al confirmed the association between environmental asbestos exposure and mortality from malignant mesothelioma for “people living within a range of up to 500 m centered on the (asbestos-cement) plant.” The authors of this study note that the health risk of neighborhood exposure to asbestos has been proven in various locations and “there is no evidence of a minimum threshold below which there is no risk.” While there were no available historical data on asbestos pollution in Bari, it is beyond dispute that airborne asbestos emissions were created by Eternit's Fibronit factory during its 50+ years of manufacturing cement sheets, pressure pipes and other materials using chrysotile (80%) and amphibole asbestos (20%).2 As a consequence of the factory's commercial operations (1934-1989), hundreds of thousands of residents could have been exposed to asbestos: “in 1991, after the production ceased, the resident population in the three quarters bordering the factory numbered 99,402 inhabitants…” As the redundant Fibronit site was never remediated, the asbestos contamination which remains is, say the authors, “a serious public health problem.”3

Thousands of miles away, residents in 13 small towns in Vermont are also paying the price for their region's asbestos past.4 Those affected live within 10 miles of the site of the redundant Vermont Asbestos Mine.5 According to the results of studies released by the Vermont Department of Health in November 2008, people in the asbestos hotspots are 12 times more likely to die of asbestos-related lung disease than other Vermont residents. As precise calculations of the ongoing risk faced by those in the affected communities are difficult due to the lack of vital information, state officials are calling for “additional environmental sampling.” Experts from the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry and Vermont health and environmental officials were scheduled to speak at public meetings in Lowell and Eden in November; due to adverse weather conditions, these events were postponed.

The rescheduled meetings took place on January 13 & 14, 2009. Journalists reported that the dominant concern of the local people was the effect the "perceived" contamination would have on property prices. Betty Jones told the meeting in Eden: "I own 200 acres that abuts the mines. This makes my land worthless." Local resident Warren Earle agreed: "I've got a piece of property that they say is worth $135,000 and I can guarantee you, I'd be lucky if I get $35,000 for it now, all because of this report, which to me is very incomplete and inconclusive."6

The desolate 1,500 acre site on which the mine is situated remains a blot on the landscape. Huge mountains of asbestos waste (tailings), estimated to contain 30 million tons of asbestos-containing debris, dominate the site; a barbed wire fence with “no trespassing” signs provides little protection from windblown and waterborne contamination. According to Vermont official John Schmeltzer, the unremediated mine remains a threat to local people and wildlife: “tailings (have been) found in the wetlands below the site.” Two million dollars have been spent by the state and federal governments on assessing and containing the asbestos hazard; a proper clean-up could cost $240 million. Vermont has sued the Vermont Asbestos Group, the mine's current owner, as well as G-1 Holdings, a successor to the company (GAF Corp) which owned the mine from 1936-1975, for the money to cover the clean-up costs.

January 15, 2009


1 Musti M, Pollice A, Cavone D, Dragonieri S, Bilancia M. The Relationship between Malignant Mesothelioma and an Asbestos Cement Plant Environmental Risk: a Spatial Case Control Study in the City of Bari (Italy). Int Arch Occup Environ Health. Sept 23, 2008.
See: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18810484

2 “Eternit was the largest asbestos cement manufacturing company in Europe.” In Italy, Eternit operated asbestos-cement facilities in Casale Monferrato, Bari and Broni; Eternit is the defendant in a class action being brought by Italian prosecutors on behalf of thousands of Italians with asbestos-related diseases. After years of preparation, this case is due in court in 2009.

3 See also the paper Excess of Mesotheliomas after Exposure to Chrysotile in Balangero, Italy by Dario Mirabelli, Roberto Calisti et al. Occup. Environ. Med. 2008;65;815-819.

4 The affected towns are: Albany, Belvidere, Craftsbury, Eden, Hyde Park, Irasburg, Johnson, Lowell, Montgomery, Newport Town, Troy, Waterville and Westfield.

5 Chrysotile asbestos was mined from the early 1900s to 1993.
Jeromin K. Asbestos Mine Causes Health Concern. November 10, 2008.
See: http://www.fox44.net/Global/story.asp?S=9325735

6See: VT Asbestos Mine Public Meetings, January 13, 2009; http://www.fox44.net/global/story.asp?s=9662058&ClientType=Printable and Health Dept. Study Links Disease and Asbestos Mine. January 12, 2009; http://www.wptz.com/cnn-news/18463770/detail.html



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