U.S. GAO - Hazardous Materials: EPA’s Assessment of Sites That May Have Received Asbestos-Contaminated Ore from Libby, Montana (GAO-09-7SP, March 2009), an E-supplement to GAO-09-6R

Hazardous Materials: EPA’s Assessment of Sites That May Have Received Asbestos-Contaminated Ore from Libby, Montana (GAO-09-7SP, March 2009), an E-supplement to GAO-09-6R

Zonolite Company/W.R. Grace, Wemelco Way, Easthampton, Massachusetts
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Location of facility Type of facility Amount
of ore
(in tons)
Results of
1 Wemelco Way, Easthampton, Massachusetts Former exfoliation facility 183,255 Yes-March 8, 2000 Yes According to an EPA database compiled from W.R. Grace shipping invoices, 183,255 tons of vermiculite ore from the Libby mine were shipped to this site between February 1966 and September 1984. This facility was formerly owned by the Zonolite Company and was operated as an exfoliation plant by W.R. Grace. The vermiculite was used in the production of Zonolite attic insulation and Monokote fireproofing material. From 1984 until 1992, the facility continued production using vermiculite from other sources. The site included a warehouse (which was the former Zonolite facility), a large paved parking lot on the northwest side of the building, and a former rail line. There were no fences or locked gates on the property. The site was located in a mixed residential and commercial area. On May 9, 2000, EPA and officials from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection collected 12 surface soil samples along the railbed and from an on-site disposal area identified by former W.R. Grace employees. Two of these samples contained no asbestos, three samples contained less than 1-percent asbestos, and three samples contained 1-percent asbestos. The remaining four samples contained 2.2-, 8.1-, 9.8-, and 6.4-percent asbestos. The samples were analyzed using polarized light microscopy (PLM) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM). The intended future use of this site was a commercial facility with the possibility of a bike path where the rail bed was located (part of a rails-to-trails project). On the basis of this information, EPA anticipated that a limited number of individuals would have extremely brief, occasional contact with the property. This information, along with an agreement that the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection would take the lead to resolve any further issues with this site, led EPA to conclude that a removal action was not necessary at that time. Additional sampling was conducted. Based on all the sampling conducted, surface soil results analyzed by PLM indicated detections of up to 9.8-percent asbestos in the on-site disposal area. The sampling also indicated the on- and off-property portions of the rail bed contained asbestos in surface soils ranging from nondetectable amounts to up to 3.3-percent. Because of concerns about subsurface contamination, which could become a health problem if the site were excavated, Massachusetts worked with W.R. Grace to further assess the site. After significant delays, this assessment was completed and it was determined that some subsurface contaminant removal was warranted. However, W.R. Grace declared bankruptcy before the removal was performed. In December 2006, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, in cooperation with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), issued a health consultation report that, among other things, stated that exposure concerns at the Easthampton site must be addressed if a bike path is constructed along the rail bed. The report pointed out that there are potential opportunities for airborne exposure to asbestos during construction of the bike path and that, after the construction of the path, exposure concerns might still remain for those who use the path for recreational purposes if asbestos-contaminated soils are still present beside the path. The report also recommended that site security be improved to help limit exposures and that additional soil and air sampling be conducted. As of January 2009, no removal action has occurred at this site. EPA stated that it is working with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the City of Easthampton, and the responsible party (owner of the site) to develop a plan to address the contamination. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s (ATSDR) health consultation report for this site can be found at ATSDR.