Officials face angry crowd at asbestos mine briefing

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(Host) State and federal officials faced an angry crowd of several hundred people last night as they briefed the public on health and environmental studies of an abandoned asbestos mine in northern Vermont.

The mine site straddles the towns of Eden and Lowell. It was closed in 1993. Officials are concerned that waste rock containing potentially harmful asbestos fibers was used for road-building and for construction throughout the area.

The state and the federal Environmental Protection Agency held the first of two public meetings last night in the Eden Central School.

And from the start, officials were on the defensive as they tried to explain why a state study first flagged a cluster of lung cancer cases possibly associated with asbestos exposure, but then had to retract that conclusion.

Health Commissioner Doctor Wendy Davis apologized for the error. But that didn’t satisfy Leslie White of Eden.

(White) "I think there needs to be a little larger apology, because you broadcasted it all over the state and all over the country, and it affects us very personally, and I feel that it’s been very unfair. (Applause)"

(Host) Commissioner Davis said the study still showed a statistical link between the incidence of asbestosis – an asbestos related disease – and people who lived within 10 miles of the mine.

(Davis) "Despite that error, I remain concerned and my colleagues at the Health Department remain extremely concerned, about the possibility of health risk related to the mine. What we know is that looking back in time as we did with this initial study and looking at history it appears again there is at least an association between the health outcomes we looked at and living in these towns."

(Host) Lynn Noah who owns land in Eden challenged those findings. He said the study was based on extremely small numbers – three deaths from asbestosis among people who did not work at the mine.

(Noah) "I’ve studied statistics at MIT and I have to say the concept and the execution, and especially the presentation to the press, was so bad as to border on the unethical. (Applause)"

(Host) The state defended the study and said it was carefully reviewed by federal scientists. But residents said they were concerned that the publicity over the possible health dangers has caused their property values to plummet.

Betty Jones owns 200 acres across from the mine site.

(Jones)  "This makes my land worthless. What are you going to do about it? Are you going to tell everybody you made a mistake? (Applause)"

(Host) Officials asked the public for information about where the asbestos waste was used for construction and road-building. They also said the abandoned mine is in the initial stages of being evaluated as a possible federal Superfund hazardous waste site.

Photo: EPA official briefs public on abandoned asbestos mine 

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