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In 1899, the New England Asbestos Mining and Milling Company began extracting asbestos from Mount Belvidere. By 1929, the mines in the area were supplying the entire U.S. nearly all of its asbestos needs. Even though the hazards were known, the mines continued operations into the 1990s.
In addition to the mines at Belvidere Mountain, power plants, hospitals, schools and manufacturing facilities throughout Vermont used asbestos. Anyone who may have come in contact with it while constructing or working at these facilities could be at risk of developing a related disease like mesothelioma. Vermont now has strict regulations that regulate uses of asbestos and monitor sites where exposure may occur.
Occupations and Environmental Areas at Risk
Asbestos mining operations at Belvidere Mountain near the towns of Eden and Lowell provided a major source for asbestos exposure. Employees of the New England Asbestos Mining and Milling Company and Vermont Product Corporation (both owners of the mine) may have experienced exposure through mining, transporting or processing the mineral. Although the Belvidere Mountain asbestos mines were the first in the U.S., they were also the last to close, finally shutting down in 1993.
Because of the latency period associated with the development of mesothelioma and related diseases, former employees of the companies that operated the mine may just now start to feel the effects of their exposure. Even today, there are still large quantities of asbestos around the mines and in an estimated 30 million tons of rock that has been processed to some degree.
The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources launched an investigation into the mines in 2004, concerned about the erosion of hazardous materials that could be reaching nearby streams and wetlands. Medical studies performed for the investigation showed no increase of mesothelioma risk for residents living in the towns near the mines. The five cases of mesothelioma reported in the area from 1996 to 2005 were all determined to have been occupationally related. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently evaluating the mines to determine their eligibility for Superfund listing.
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W.R. Grace also shipped one ton of its contaminated vermiculite from Libby, Montana, to a processing plant in Morrisville, Vermont. These processing plants “popped” or exfoliated the vermiculite to make attic insulation and other products. Those who worked at the plant were at serious risk of exposure, and even people who lived in the surrounding neighborhoods could have been exposed to levels higher than national standards.
Another location within Vermont that may have provided an occupational source for exposure is the Vermont Yankee Power Plant in the city of Vernon. Power plants have a history of exposing employees to hazardous substances. Because the plant began operations in 1972, when asbestos use was prevalent in power plants, it was likely used to insulate pipes, generators, boilers and electrical components. Employees asked to repair these pieces of equipment were at an increased risk for exposure.
Other power plants in the state where workers were potentially exposed include:
- Montpelier and Barre Light and Power Company
- Corry Deavitt Frost Electric Company
- Consolidated Light and Power Company
- Vermont Electric Power Company Inc.
- St. Albans Electric Light and Power Company
In 2006, the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation warned its residents of auto parts containing asbestos. The department cautioned that auto repair workers were most at risk, especially those who work with brake pads, clutches and other asbestos-containing friction products. They advised the use of water and special equipment to prevent fibers from being released into the work area.
Paper mills and textile factories are also known for using asbestos products throughout their facilities.
Some of the paper mill and textile factory locations in Vermont where exposure may have occurred are:
- White Mountain Paper Company
- Green Mountain Paper
- International Paper Company
- Black Cat Textiles
In 2008, the Montpelier school district faced asbestos concerns before the start of the school year. Union Elementary, Main Street Middle School and Montpelier High School all delayed the first day of school so that exposure risks could be eliminated. According to a lawsuit filed against an area flooring company, proper removal of asbestos-containing materials did not occur. Schools in general have a history of using products that contain asbestos.
The Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Administration (VOSHA) regulates asbestos exposure in occupational settings. For additional information concerning VOSHA requirements in the workplace, contact the Vermont Department of Labor and Industry at (802) 828-4000.
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Windsor Mine in Vermont
Vermont is also at the center of allegations against Johnson & Johnson. A mine in Windsor, Vermont, was a major talc supplier for the consumer goods giant.
According to documents unsealed in September 2017, the company was alerted in the early 1970s that the Windsor mine was potentially contaminated with asbestos. J&J employees were reportedly trained to reassure the public that its iconic baby powder products were never contaminated with the deadly mineral.
One of the unsealed documents indicated that in May 1974, a J&J official recommended the “use of citric acid in the depression of chrysotile asbestos” from the talc extracted from the Windsor mine. A J&J company report from a year earlier noted the company was working with the federal government to check for fibers that could prove the presence of asbestos at the site.
The mine dates back to 1964, when the Eastern Magnesia Talc Co. began operating a modem froth flotation plant in Windsor. Johnson & Johnson acquired the operation as a subsidiary in 1972 and ran it until 1989.
Vermont’s Department of Health is responsible for setting and enforcing regulations pertaining to abatement contractors, permits for removing asbestos, proper notifications and disposal methods. The department’s Outreach Program is designed to educate the public about state and federal laws, including those implemented by the EPA. Vermont’s Department of Health also has an Enforcement and Compliance Inspection Program to manage renovation and demolition projects involving dangerous materials. For more information, visit their informational resource on asbestos.
Proper disposal of asbestos-containing materials is managed under Vermont’s Solid Waste Management Rules. If these materials need to be disposed of, a contractor certified by the Vermont Department of Health must pick up and deliver the waste. All asbestos-containing waste must be clearly labeled as follows: “Caution – Contains Asbestos Fibers – Avoid Creating Dust – Cancer and Lung Disease Hazard.”
The risk of exposure and the potential development of a related disease like mesothelioma has strengthened regulations in Vermont and nationally during the last two decades. Public health officials in every state are pushing for tighter regulations with the hope of preventing future cases of disease.
Despite these efforts, asbestos activities in Vermont continue to place residents at risk. In March 2008, a Vermont real estate developer and its demolition contractor agreed to pay $15,000 for asbestos violations during a demolition project. According to the EPA, the developer failed to properly inspect for asbestos or notify the agency before demolishing buildings on two residential lots in Essex Junction. These mistakes violated the federal Clean Air Act and released approximately 75,106 pounds of asbestos-containing debris.
In August 2014, EPA records revealed several violations occurred during an asbestos removal project at the Waterbury State Office Complex. NCM, one of seven companies contracted for the job, failed to properly seal removed asbestos materials and spray them with water to prevent fibers from going airborne. Documents show the company’s negligence exposed workers to asbestos, but the Vermont Department of Labor did not issue any citations. The EPA’s investigation continues and may result in fines for NCM and the state.
In January 2019, Vermont’s attorney general signed a petition asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to require companies to file reports on the asbestos products they import. Attorneys general from 13 other states and the District of Columbia also signed the petition. The EPA had recently denied a similar petition in December 2018.
Asbestos Litigation in Vermont
In 2008, the Vermont Attorney General’s office filed a lawsuit against the Vermont Asbestos Group, owners of an asbestos mine that operated near the towns of Eden and Lowell for nearly a century. The 1,500-acre mine closed in 1993 but left behind 30 tons of trails or debris contaminated with asbestos. The state of Vermont estimated a complete site cleanup would cost about $200 million.
After five years of discussion, the state reached an agreement with the mine owner to pay for cleanup costs. The negotiation resulted in a $3.5 million settlement, which will cover pollution controls and decontamination. It includes a $3,360,082.60 payment to the EPA and a $174,620 payment to the state of Vermont. The mine owner also agreed to pay $50,000 over the next 10 years to fund security and erosion management at the site.
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Last Modified February 6, 2019
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