Asbestos Mine Cleanup to be Partially Paid by Former Owner

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(Host) A bankrupt New Jersey company has agreed to help pay for some of the cleanup of an abandoned asbestos mine in northern Vermont.

At the same time, scientists are investigating whether the waste rock could be put to use capturing greenhouse gases.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The asbestos mine on Belvidere Mountain was once the country’s largest source of chrysotile asbestos.

Now it’s the state’s largest hazardous waste site. Like other types of asbestos, the crysotile ore is considered a human carcinogen.

The mine closed years ago and its owner, G-1 Holdings of New Jersey, filed for bankruptcy. A settlement reached last week will fund part of the cleanup.

John Bieling is an assistant attorney general.

(Bieling) "The plan of reorganization, which has been filed with the bankruptcy court, calls for basically a payment of 8.6 cents on the dollar."

(Dillon) So that’s 8.6 percent of the estimated $300 million needed to contain and stabilize the huge pile of asbestos rock waste.

Before asbestos was considered dangerous, waste rock from the site was used throughout northern Vermont for construction projects and road building. Bieling says G-1 will also help pay to investigate where the material was used.

(Bieling) "There’s evidence that the materials, tailings were actually sold and used off the mine property. And there’s going to be an ongoing investigation of that practice. And the injunctive relief is going to cover up to $5 million of the cost of that."

(Dillon) John Schmeltzer is co-project manager of the site for the Department of Environmental Conservation. He says the settlement is an important step toward eventual clean up.

(Schmeltzer) "This doesn’t solve the problem of resources. But I think given that it was in bankruptcy, I think the settlement is a good thing because we were able to get some resources from a company that was going bankrupt."

(Dillon) And there’s a possibility that the hazardous asbestos waste could eventually be good for the environment.

Scientists with the U-S Geological Survey are researching whether the material can be used to store carbon dioxide – the gas that traps the earth’s heat.

The process is known as carbon sequestration. The asbestos ore found in northern Vermont also includes minerals that can react with and capture CO2. Schmeltzer says state officials have heard about the process.  

(Schmeltzer) "I think we’ve had people conceptually talk to us about that and I think it’s something that the state would be open to, that alternative approach to dealing with the tailings."

(Dillon) If that happens, it would be the latest chapter in the mine’s convoluted history. Last winter, the state Health Department warned that people living near the mine had higher risk of dying from asbestos-related disease. But after local residents dug into the data and questioned the research, the state retracted the report.

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

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