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Voters turn down federal cleanup for Vermont asbestos mine


Residents of two Vermont towns went to the polls Tuesday and overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to designate a dormant asbestos mine as a Superfund site.

 

Voter approval would have paved the way for a federal cleanup of the former Vermont Asbestos Group mine on Belvidere Mountain. State and federal investigations at the 1,540-acre site found that erosion of mine tailing piles is contaminating downstream wetlands and streams with asbestos-containing sediment.

 

The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources supports adding the mine to the National Priorities, or Superfund, list. The agency needed approval from the residents of two towns that border the site, Eden and Lowell, before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could step in and take control of the cleanup.

 

But in Eden, only three voters supported the designation, while 106 rejected it. Lowell residents opposed it, 103-38.

 

Local news outlets report that residents are concerned about the 30 million tons of asbestos waste at the old mine, which shut down in 1993. But they are opposed to intervention by the EPA, fearing Superfund status could hurt property values and lead to other problems for homeowners, many of whom paved their driveways with waste from the mine.

 

Residents were also frustrated by the lack of information about the scope of the proposed cleanup operation and what remediation methods would be used. And they remain angry about a 2008 Vermont Department of Health study that found “statistically significant associations between illness — asbestosis and lung cancer — and residence in towns within a 10-mile radius of the mine.” According to the Burlington Free Press, the department later retracted the findings, saying it “does not indicate that asbestosis hospitalizations or deaths were caused by living near the mine.”

 

Estimates to clean the site range from $135 million to more than $200 million. The EPA would have assumed 80 percent of the cost if the mine was designated a Superfund.

 

State officials said ANR will continue work at mine, overseeing and maintaining the drainage and erosion control features already in place. The state will also continue to monitor stream health and experimental vegetative plots.

 

John Schmeltzer, an analyst with ANR’s waste management division, told the Free Press that the referendum’s failure leaves the state with fewer tools to clean up the site.

 

“What has been done has helped tremendously, but there is still an ongoing discharge,” Schmeltzer said. “You could potentially see more asbestos material going downstream. That is my biggest concern.”