Sunday, October 02, 2005

Grace's Deadly Asbestos Tentacles Continue To Reach Across The Country

Slowly, but surely the full story of breadth and depth of W.R. Grace's asbestos crimes are being told.

The Oakland Tribune has an article about worker exposure to asbestos-containing vermiculite at the Trenton (Hamilton), New Jersey W.R. Grace Site. I reported on this several times before (see below).

Federal EPA has indicted seven current and former executives of W.R. Grace in Montana for attempting to hide the fact that asbestos was present in vermiculite products in the company's Libby, Montana plant. But the problem didn't stay in Montana. The vermiculite was transported for processing to around 30 facilities across the country.
Tests conducted by Grace itself inside the plant in the late 1970s showed airborne asbestos averaging 45 times today's workplace standards — and three times higher than those inside a similar plant in the Southern California city of Santa Ana — with some concentrations 100 times higher. By 1983, federal scientists believed airborne asbestos in the plant was lowered to today's standards, and the plant stopped operating in 1993.

Many scientists believe the current occupational standard still imperils workers, particularly for the kind of asbestos found in Libby vermiculite. Some scientists argue that Libby asbestos poses 100 times the risk of ordinary asbestos for triggering mesothelioma, a rare and almost invariably lethal cancer of the lung lining. That risk more than doubles for smokers.

"If you're a former worker, the best thing you could do right now is to alert your physician that you were exposed," said James Durant, an environmental health scientist at the federal toxics agency who led the Newark study.

Asbestos concentrations were high enough at the Newark plant that families of workers could have been exposed to unhealthy amounts by doing the laundry.
The Tribune articles also note that:
The agency's recent reports on 18 of the largest W.R. Grace plants could prove politically difficult for federal lawmakers as Congress considers removing asbestos lawsuits from the courts and creating a massive trust fund for asbestos victims. If plant workers became ill, they would have to compete for compensation on less-certain terms than traditional asbestos workers.

Symptoms of asbestos-related disease can take 25 or more years to emerge, so workers could begin showing respiratory problems this decade or later.
There are also concerns about contamination of the plant's neighbors which are currently being investigated by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry:
The toxics agency is seeking former Grace workers and immediate neighbors from the 1960s through the early 1980s to warn them and learn more about the plants' operations. At one Grace site in Minneapolis, for example, children were allowed to play in piles of vermiculite, and residents were encouraged to take the glittering material home for use in their gardens or attics.

Federal officials don't know whether that happened at Newark. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found elevated levels of asbestos in soil around the Newark plant in 2002, before conducting a cleanup there.

Thousands of older Bay Area homes are believed to be insulated with asbestos-contaminated vermiculite that the plant shipped to hardware stores and insulation installers. Federal health and environmental officials warn homeowners who find vermiculite insulation in their attics to leave it undisturbed until cleanup by a professional asbestos-remediation firm.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) website which has a map showing W.R. Grace "hotspots" across the country, and the agency is conducting site investigations "to determine appropriate actions, as needed, to protect public health in each location."

On September 22, ATSDR announced the completion of site investigations at eight additional W.R. Grace plants, and issued a Press Release repeating its warning that former workers at the closed processing plants are at increased risk for developing asbestos related health problems.
ATSDR recommends that former workers and for many of the sites, household members who lived with them, take specific steps to protect their health and improve quality of life:
  • Learn more about asbestos exposure,
  • See a doctor with experience in asbestos-related lung disease,
  • Quit smoking,
  • Get regular flu and pneumonia shots.
Residents could have been exposed to asbestos if they handled or played in waste rock, a by-product of vermiculite exfoliation. At some vermiculite plants, workers or people in the community may have brought waste rock from the plant to their homes. This waste rock was used in many ways, for example in gardens and as fill or driveway surfacing material.

When processing vermiculite, the plants might have released dust and asbestos fibers into the air. ATSDR cannot determine the extent of exposure to former residents who lived near the plant.
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