Eden, VT—Summer camp is one of the rituals of summer, but for hundreds of Boy Scouts in Vermont, it’s not going to happen this year, at least not at the Mount Norris Scout Reservation, which is located only three and a half miles from an abandoned asbestos mine.
After Environmental Protection Agency officials informed the Boy Scouts that the ground at the camp was unsafe because of high asbestos levels, the Boy Scouts Organization in Vermont made the difficult decision to call off all camping sessions at the location.
The Mt. Belvidere asbestos mine, which operated for nearly a century but was closed in 1993, has recently been the target of controversy, and the subject of several public hearings, in the northeast region of Vermont. In November 2008, health officials warned that residents of the area could face an increased risk of lung cancer, asbestosis, and other diseases. A statistically large number of people who lived within a 10-mile radius of the mine had been hospitalized for, or died from, asbestos-related diseases.
Vermont environmental and health officials have been unable to quell residents’ fears about exactly how the asbestos may have affected the health of those people, or what risk it now poses. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fiber which, when it is damaged through mining or production, releases millions of microscopic fibers into the air. Those fibers are easily inhaled and become lodged in the body’s soft tissues, where they may cause asbestosis, pleural disease and mesothelioma, a rare cancer that is extremely aggressive.
Asbestos was widely used for insulation and construction purposes, although it has been largely phased out since health and environmental concerns were raised in the 1970s and 1980s. Studies have shown that repeated exposure to asbestos – as in the case of miners, shipbuilders or pipefitters who have worked closely with the material over a period of time – is more harmful, but most health officials agree that there is no “safe” level of asbestos exposure.
The Boy Scouts of Vermont are working in conjunction with the EPA to evaluate and abate the asbestos contamination at the camp. They expect that it will be ready for campers again in 2010.
The Mount Norris camp was scheduled to host 700 boys over the summer season, but will now have to find another destination this summer. The Boy Scouts council will assist in rerouting the campers.