Absestos mine clean-up to cost more than $200 million

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(Host) State and federal agencies estimate it will cost more than $200 million to clean up hazardous waste from an asbestos mine in northern Vermont.

The government has filed claims in state court and in bankruptcy court as it tries to get the money from the mine’s former owners.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) The mine in Lowell and Eden operated for almost a century. What’s left now are some old buildings and several enormous piles of waste rock.

These tailings, as they’re called, contain hazardous asbestos. The federal government says asbestos exposure can cause cancer.

Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency spent almost $2 million dollars in an emergency effort to stop the waste material from damaging nearby streams and wetlands.

But the potential price tag to clean up the entire site is much bigger. John Beling is an assistant attorney general who works on environmental issues.

(Beling) "The total cost estimates, which are preliminary, put the range in the $210 to $250 million category. We’re not optimistic that we’re going to get 100 percent recovery, but we’re going to attempt to get as much as we can out of the bankruptcy and out of the state court proceeding."

(Dillon) The state is going after two owners of the closed mine. The first is G-1 Holdings, which is trying to reorganize in bankruptcy court. G-1 is a successor corporation to GAF Corporation, the company that owned the mine until 1975.

GAF then sold the mine to the Vermont Asbestos Group. The principal shareholder of the Vermont company is Howard Manosh, a Lamoille County businessman.   

The state has sued Vermont Asbestos Group is Washington Superior Court. Assistant Attorney General John Beling:

(Beling) "As the present owner VAG is also strictly liable for the contamination at the property. And so we’ll be seeking both compensation for monies that have been expended and seek to get VAG to do as much work as possible and/or pay estimated costs going forward."

(Dillon) But a lawyer for the Vermont Asbestos Group says the company has little money to pay the government. Ed French represents the company in state court.

(French) "VAG currently has no assets. Well, its only asset is a warehouse in Morrisville that it rents out for a minimal amount each month. So very minimal assets and extensive liabilities at this point in time."

(Dillon) In the bankruptcy court, state and federal agencies have also filed a claim outlining G-1’s potential liability.

As part of that claim, the government lawyers cited a recent Health Department study that found that people who live near the mine had higher rates of lung cancer and asbestosis.

But in bankruptcy court, the government is an unsecured creditor, meaning that it may have to stand in line behind banks or other creditors that have a secured interest in G-1’s assets.

Meanwhile, the EPA is reviewing whether the asbestos mine should be on the government’s Superfund list. If it does become a Superfund site, that would make federal money available for clean-up.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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