Can Sifting Sands Save Asbestos Contaminated Beach?

Midwest Generation is trying a pilot program to remove asbestos from sand along the lake shore in Waukegan, Illinois. Rather than older methods of simply landfilling the sand, this project aims to clean and recycle the sand. If the project is successful, the cleaned sand will be used in construction projects, and the process could be used elsewhere along the lakeshore. The first attempt to sift the asbestos from the sand will begin at the end of this year. Through a permit from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Midwest Generation will first test the asbestos contamination level of over 15,000 cubic yards of sand pulled from the intake canal of the lake. The sand will then be sifted under a tent. Air vacuums will control air contamination from asbestos removed from the sand. Once the asbestos has been removed, the cleaned sand can be used in roadbeds and airport runways. The company expects that the success of the project will be understood by the beginning of 2009. If it is successful, this program could help to clean beaches contaminated all along Lake Michigan.

Asbestos contamination on Lake Michigan beaches is a serious problem. Asbestos has been detected in Lake Michigan sands from Wisconsin to Chicago. Exposure to asbestos fibers or particles can lead to the development of lung ailments such as asbestosis and mesothelioma . It is unclear exactly where the asbestos in Waukegan, Illinois came from, but officials have narrowed the theories down to three possibilities. The available evidence points to three possible culprits: dumping from home building product manufacturer Johns Manville Corporation, a berm using Johns Mansville materials built for the 1956 PanAm Games, or a group of older homes along the north end of Illinois State Park which were bulldozed.