Testing of Homes in Mining Area Shows Dangerous Asbestos Levels

More than half of a group of homes in Thetford Mines, Quebec, had levels of asbestos high enough that, if the same concentrations were detected in U.S. schools, students wouldn’t be allowed inside the buildings, says a study published today in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health.

The results of the study, reported in an article in Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper, also indicated that asbestos left in piles of mine waste found throughout the area was drifting into homes and causing potential health hazards. Most of the houses that tested positive for high asbestos levels were downwind from a mine tailing pile or simply very close to one. Asbestos fibers were also found outside on window sills and mixed in with soil.

According to the article, the study was conducted by a Montreal-based activist group, the Asbestos Victims Association of Quebec. The group took air samples from 26 homes in 2003 and 2004, and submitted them for evaluation at an accredited U.S. laboratory.

“If these houses were schools in the United States, they would be shut down until effective corrective measures were taken to bring dust levels below [standards],” the study said.

The testing only represented a small percentage of homes in the mining town but activists feel that the study is a good representation of the asbestos contamination found throughout Thetford Mines. Experts agree.

“The mining towns are completely contaminated because they have mountains of pilings that are totally and constantly off-gassing asbestos dust,” said William Charney, an industrial hygienist in Vermont. Mr. Charney said he believes residents face “a huge public health crisis” from asbestos exposures.

A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official, who has seen the new study, said he was very alarmed by the findings and concerned for the safety of those who live in Thetford Mines.

“I know one thing. If I lived in that community, I’d move,” said Mike Cirian, EPA remediation project manager in Libby, Mont., where about 900 homes and other properties are being cleaned up in a $200-million effort to reduce asbestos contamination from a defunct vermiculite mine.

Mr. Charney said that, based on the study results, Thetford Mines “without any question” should also be considered for a cleanup.

Leave a Reply