VT Study Blames Asbestosis Deaths on Work Exposure

Burlington, VT – A new study conducted by the Vermont Department of Health is good news for many residents who live near an abandoned asbestos mine.
The site, known as the Vermont Asbestos Group (VAG) mine, had been suspected of contaminating nearby towns through asbestos fibers that had become airborne and water-borne, after five Vermont residents had died of asbestosis. Yet the study, which was conducted in conjunction with a group of concerned citizens from the Vermont counties of Franklin, Orleans and Lamoille, found that the workers died of occupational hazards, not environmental exposure. Three of the deaths occurred in people who had actually worked at the mine, whereas the other two people had contracted asbestosis through occupational exposure elsewhere, and then, coincidentally, moved to the area of Vermont in which the mine was located. A joint resolution of the Vermont Legislature prompted the study, which included study of VAG employment records and phone interviews with relatives of people who had died of asbestosis within a ten-year period from 1996-2005. These people, usually the next-of-kin of the asbestosis patients, were asked about the patients’ work history, residential history, and hobbies. The mine, which closed in 1993, was the largest asbestos mine in the United States, producing over 90% of the country’s chrysolite asbestos. The Agency of Natural Resources started research into the site’s contamination in 2004, including biological and chemical assessments of 23 locations within two affected watersheds. Health Commissioner Wendy Davis, M.D., said that the mine site had been used for recreational purposes, as well as for amateur geological and botanical studies. “However,” she added, “because of the erosion and loose asbestos rock, we continue to recommend that people and pets stay off the mine for health and safety reasons.” Asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral, can be extremely hazardous when its fibers are disturbed. Asbestos exposure in people leads not only to asbestosis, a disease which results in serious scarring of the lungs, but also to mesothelioma,  a rare but aggressive cancer which is usually untreatable. While work exposure is to blame for these Vermont deaths, environmental exposure has been linked to asbestos-related diseases in other areas.