Five people who died of an asbestos-related lung disease were exposed to the material at their jobs and not because they lived near a now-closed asbestos mine in northern Vermont, the state Health Department said Wednesday.
According to a Health Department report, three of the five people who died of asbestosis between 1996 and 2005 had worked at the sprawling mine in Eden and Lowell, while the other two already had it before they moved to the area.
“Although the news may be a sad reminder for the loved ones of those who have died, with this study we have been able to identify work exposures that can explain all of the deaths in the area around the mine,” said Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Wendy Davis.
The report released Wednesday expanded on an earlier study that found residents who lived near the mine had higher-than-normal rates of asbestosis, which scars the lungs and can lead to respiratory failure.
Some area residents were upset by the first study’s conclusions, prompting public health officials to re-examine the issue. Davis acknowledged that the initial study was limited in its scope and said health officials could have done a better job communicating with the public.
“That’s a lesson learned from this project,” she said.
Mary Walz, 48, of Hyde Park, a member of the citizens group called FLO, or Franklin, Lamoille, Orleans, after the three affected counties, said she was relieved by the new report.
“I think the main thing it tells me is it’s good news for the community,” Walz said. “There’s no evidence there is any kind of health problem related to the mine.”
The mine on Belvidere Mountain opened in the early 1900s and produced asbestos until it closed in 1993.
Residents have been warned to stay away from the mine and the residue _ estimated to be about 30 million tons _ left behind from nearly a century of mining.
Earlier this year the Legislature passed a resolution calling on the Health Department to update its fall study. The deadline for completing that study was Wednesday.
To complete the latest study, researchers interviewed the next of kin of some of the people who died of asbestosis.
“When taken together with the earlier conclusions of the December 9, 2008 report, this study confirms that there is no evidence that people living in the 13 towns surrounding the mine have a higher risk of dying from non-occupational asbestos-related diseases than people elsewhere in the state of Vermont,” the report concluded.
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