Asbestos mines are currently closed in the United States and are temporarily closed in Canada. Exposure among miners has been reduced as a result, but what happens to the area around the mine after it closes? Asbestos is a carcinogen that can cause mesothelioma cancer to develop in our chest and abdominal cavities. Even though asbestos is no longer being intentionally extracted from U.S. mines, are we still in harm’s way if we live near the mines?
The most common way to mine asbestos from the earth is by removing the mineral from an open pit. Large pits are dug into the earth to gain access to rocks that contain asbestos minerals. The earth that is removed is then sorted and processed. However, there is a lot of earth left over and it is deposited into large piles near the mine. These piles are called “tailings.”
These large piles of dirt with traces of asbestos can present serious problems. The dirt is often sold as backfill or as gravel. Also, the huge tailings can promote the spread of asbestos fibers throughout the local environment. For example, water runoff erodes the tailings and channels asbestos into local waterways. Windy days can also spread asbestos fibers from the tailing piles into nearby residential areas.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has created a National Priorities List, which names the most hazardous sites to our health across the United States and U.S. territories. Currently, there are four asbestos mines on the list:
- Atlas Asbestos Mine, Fresno County, California
- South Bay Asbestos Area, Alviso, California
- Libby Asbestos, Libby, Montana
- BoRit Asbestos, Ambler, Pennsylvania
One mine that is not on the list and is currently in violation of the Vermont Water Quality Standards and the Federal Clean Water Act is the Vermont Asbestos Group Mine (VAG). The VAG mine is discharging sediment that contains asbestos into local rivers, wetlands and lakes. The EPA has determined that this site is eligible to be added to the National Priorities List.
Other noteworthy facts about the VAG mine include:
- The size of the VAG mine tailings are estimated at 29 to 30 million tons.
- The cost for fixing the VAG Mine runoff may be anywhere from $135 to $207 million.
- The VAG mine is not in compliance with Vermont’s Solid Waste Rules, Stormwater and Wetland Regulations.
If considerable amounts of asbestos is inhaled or ingested into your body over time, the fibers may become trapped in the lining of the lungs or abdomen and could result in illness. If you lived near an asbestos mine or think you have been exposed to asbestos, do not hesitate to find more information at Asbestos.com.