Naturally-Occurring Asbestos Taints Stream

Residents who live in the Swift Creek area of Washington State, near Bellingham, are concerned again this winter about the asbestos-tainted silt choking their stream.
According to an article in the Bellingham Herald, individuals who’ve lived in the area for a while have known about naturally occurring asbestos in the creek sediments for decades. The toxic mineral, which can cause cancer, washes down from a landslide on the side of nearby Sumas Mountain.
“Until recently, the asbestos danger didn’t stop the county from annual dredging of the creek to ease flood risks,” the article pointed out. “The sediment was piled up alongside the creek, and local businesses and residents hauled it off for use as fill. The state Department of Transportation even used it in road projects.”
However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did a study in 2005 that determined asbestos levels in the creek sediments were too high to allow its continued use as fill of any sort. In turn, the piles of tainted sediment alongside the creek were fenced off, removal was forbidden, and warning signs were posted. Dredging stopped, and today the creek is badly clogged with sediment, says the article.
But, the article explains, no one quite knows how to handle the situation. “We can’t get one agency here to come up with a solution,” said Swift Creek resident Ed Bosscher.
Col. Michael McCormick, commander of the Seattle district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, apologized to residents at a recent meeting.
“Where we are right now is the seams between authorities,” said Colonel McCormick. “That is not an answer you want to hear.”
Residents said they were certain that the creek will overflow this winter and threaten about 50 homes, blocking local roads and coating fields and pastures with muck…including asbestos particles.
“It’s going to flood this year,” said resident Tammy Rawls. “It was to the top of our driveway last year, and it’s never been that high before.”
Many residents insisted that the EPA is exaggerating asbestos dangers. Some said they haved lived in the area for decades without getting sick. But Lori Cohen, associate director of EPA’s office of environmental cleanup, stressed to the crowd gathered for the meeting that the risks were very real.
“Asbestos is a human carcinogen and there is no amount that is truly safe,” she said.

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