Vermont Asbestos Mine Threatens Wetlands

Vermont borders Quebec, which is one of the largest asbestos-producing regions on the planet. This was once true of Vermont.  At one time the mining operations on Belvidere Mountain near Eden and Lowell produced millions of tons of asbestos and left millions of tons of toxic waste behind when the last asbestos mine closed in 1993.
It has left a toxic legacy that is slowly destroying wetlands in the region. So far, scientists have detected high levels of asbestos as well as magnesium and arsenic in the waters of two brooks, a pond of two riparian watersheds, and extensive destruction of eight wetland areas. At the present, the damage has been limited to the waterways in the immediate vicinity. However, there is concern not only of airborne fibers, but that the water pollution could spread because of geologic action. A toxicologist for the Vermont state Department of Health said, “We are concerned there could be some catastrophic event at the site where a whole mound, a big chunk, could slide into a waterway.”

The state of Vermont has requested that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conduct studies to see if Belvidere Mountain should be considered a Superfund hazardous waste site like Libby, Montana. Initial work on the site so far has cost almost half a million dollars. It is estimated that it will cost a thousand times that amount to fully deal with the problem. The most likely solution will probably consist of trying to rebury the huge piles of toxic asbestos waste by putting them back into the mines, or putting a huge, solid-waste containment cap over them. In the meantime, while wildlife in the affected areas has definitely declined (even water insects that normally inhabit ponds and streams have become scarce), the Vermont state health department has not noted an abnormal increase in asbestosis or mesothelioma in the area. The asbestos danger remaining at Belvidere Mountain is so great that anyone planning to visit the site must first get a permit–which requires a full twenty-four hours of safety training.