The government has known for years that as many as 35 million homes and businesses in this country are insulated with a vermiculite material from a mine near Libby, Mont, that’s likely contaminated with dangerous levels of asbestos. And for as many years the government has ignored its repeated promises to warn people of the killer they may be living with.
But as the holidays rapidly approach, public health experts worry about what these people may bring into their living rooms from their Zonolite filled attics. With those colorful lights and ornaments could come invisible and deadly asbestos fibers that decades from now may destroy or end the lives of some unwrapping their gifts.
Some medical authorities believe that people are still dying because of it.
“Based on my experience, and my understanding of the residential and worker exposures to the asbestos in this insulation, I believe firmly that individuals are being sickened and even dying from these exposures across the country on a continuing basis,” said Dr. Aubrey Miller, who was medical director for the Environmental Protection Agency team that was sent to the remote town of Libby, Mont., to investigate reports of hundreds of deaths and illnesses with asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer.
More than 400 deaths have been attributed to exposure to vermiculite in and near the tiny community in which it was mined, and a litany of solid scientific studies has shown that it can kill.
While the threat from this insulation exists all year, every year, until the Zonolite is removed, experts like Miller believe the potential for exposure to the asbestos is greatest during the holidays.
Miller, who is now a senior medical adviser for the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, says he can only imagine how much asbestos has collected in the fake trees and wreaths. But he’s worried most about exposure to the younger children.
“It’s particularly important to understand the risks for children who have higher breathing rates and will inhale more of the fibers,” says the physician, a father of two.
“Children, especially young ones, tend to spend much of their time on the floor playing with the ornaments and toys, breathing the asbestos-contaminated dust, and have many years for the asbestos fibers that lodge in their lungs to eventually cause disease.”
When asked what they’ve done to alert the public, EPA officials repeatedly point to the vermiculite page on the agency’s website, which even many inside the agency say is inadequate. W. R. Grace & Co., who produced the vermiculite ore used in the insulation, has continued to insist that the insulation is safe and presents no health risk to homeowners.
Here are links to a longer version of this story and three other parts that can be found this week on AOLNews.com.
Part two: A Colorado man, now with cancer, who, with his father put Zonolite in his attic.
Part three: On Thanksgiving week 11 years ago, a regional Environmental Protection Agency boss ordered three of his top agents to rush to a remote Montana town to disprove a newspaper’s report of hundreds of people dying because of exposure to asbestos from a nearby vermiculite mine.
Part four: Invisible fibers were killing people long before a Roman scholar reported that the slaves who worked in the asbestos quarries died far younger than those who didn’t touch the wondrous, fireproof mineral. Lies being told then are still common today 2,000 years later.