Vermiculite Asbestos – The Deadly Legacy Continues in New York

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In the 1920s, vermiculite–a mineral similar in appearance to mica–was discovered in a mine about six miles from Libby, Montana, by a local businessman, Edward Alley. He soon realized it had a broad commercial application because when heated, it would expand 8-30 times in size, providing a light-weight material for insulation and fireproofing.

Mining vermiculite was the answer to the prayers of the residents of this small, rugged area which provided seasonal logging jobs on which they barely scraped by. They were thrilled to think they would have jobs which would offer better pay and some form of secure employment. What the locals in Libby, Montana did not know was a nearby deposit of asbestos contaminated the vermiculite.

How Vermiculite Asbestos was Mined

As part of the mining process, the vermiculite was crushed vermiculite insulation removal to remove the asbestos which scattered billions of deadly fibers which would eventually land in the lungs of local residents, in the soil, even in the bark of the trees that local loggers were harvesting. When trees were felled by loggers in this region, plumes of asbestos dust would shoot into the air. Researchers calculated a level of over 500 million asbestos fibers per gram of bark in a tree near this mine.

The Effects of Asbestos-Contaminated Vermiculite

In the 1970s, the latent effects of tremolite asbestos poisoning were starting to appear. Cancer rates in former and current mine workers were probably expected. When family members became ill as well, there was concern. The real shock, however, was that people who had no connection to the mine were also developing asbestosis, lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other horrible illnesses. Those billions of adrift fibers had sounded an inescapable death knell for hundreds.

The Deadly Legacy of Vermiculite Asbestos Continues

From 1919 to 1990, over 70% of this vermiculite asbestos was sold in the U.S. and remains in millions of buildings around the United States to date. Vermiculite contaminated with asbestos was used as fireproofing material when the World Trade Center twin towers were built. After September 11, 2001, the EPA reported dangerous levels of asbestos fibers in the air in Manhattan.

As Ground Zero heroes get sick, decline, and succumb to mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other asbestos-related diseases, another sad chapter in the history of human greed and stupidity will play out. The devastating legacy of vermiculite asbestos will continue to haunt the United States for decades.


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