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Media Announcements - Beltsville, Maryland

Historical Document

This web site is provided by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) ONLY as an historical reference for the public health community. It is no longer being maintained and the data it contains may no longer be current and/or accurate.

ATSDR Releases Health Consultation for former W.R. Grace/Zonolite Site in Beltsville, Md.
Former Employees and Household Members Face Possible Elevated Health Risks from Asbestos Contact
No Apparent Public Health Hazard to Most Current Area Workers and Residents


 For Immediate Release: Sept. 17, 2003

ATLANTA - A public health consultation of the former W.R. Grace/Zonolite Co. facility in Beltsville, Md., by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) concludes that facility employees were exposed to elevated levels of asbestos. Residents of employees' households also may have been exposed to asbestos fibers brought into the household on employees' clothing, skin and hair. Therefore, employees and those who lived in their homes may be at increased risk of asbestos-related diseases.

ATSDR, a public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, recommends that former employees of this facility and those who lived in their households learn more about asbestos and see a physician regarding potentially adverse health effects.

"Because of the elevated health risk, ATSDR believes former W.R. Grace/Zonolite employees and members of their households should seek medical follow-up," stated Vikas Kapil, M.D., a specialist in occupational and environmental medicine with ATSDR. "We encourage them to consult with a physician with expertise in the evaluation and management of asbestos-related lung disease."

Until it closed in the early 1990s, the plant, located at 12340 Conway Rd., processed approximately 93,000 tons of asbestos-contaminated vermiculite ore mined in Libby, Mont. The vermiculite was exfoliated (heated until it expanded, or "popped"), then used to manufacture other products.

Recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) soil samples detected no residual asbestos in on-site soils, and no stockpiles of vermiculite or vermiculite waste are present. Current land use in the surrounding area is primarily industrial. The nearest residential area is approximately one-half mile from the site.

According to Amanda Gonzalez, an ATSDR environmental health scientist, "On-site exposure to asbestos-contaminated soils does not appear to pose a public health hazard to those now employed at the site or living or working in the surrounding area."

Information about what occurred during the period when the plant processed the asbestos-contaminated vermiculite remains incomplete. Whether people living near the site when it was in operation were exposed to asbestos is not known. Also unknown is whether those currently living nearby are being exposed to asbestos from "stoner rock" (un-popped vermiculite), a process waste product which may have been used in the community for various purposes such as fill, driveway surfacing or soil amendments.

The vermiculite ore processed in Beltsville contained asbestos, which can become airborne and can be inhaled. Exposure to asbestos fibers is associated with serious adverse human health effects, including lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis, a disorder that restricts breathing capacity. Because of the effects associated with asbestos exposure, ATSDR continues a broad range of efforts in Libby and is expanding those efforts to include sites that received and processed Libby ore.


National Asbestos Exposure Review

The Beltsville site is part of ATSDR's National Asbestos Exposure Review (NAER), being conducted in two phases with other federal, state and local environmental and public health agencies. NAER is an examination of more than 200 sites around the U.S. that received asbestos-contaminated vermiculite ore mined in Libby from the early 1920s until 1990. ATSDR is working closely with EPA and state health partners to determine if a hazard to public health exists at any of the sites.

 Phase One of NAER includes an examination of 28 sites chosen because either they were on the EPA "further action" list or they were an exfoliation facility that processed over 100,000 tons of vermiculite from the Libby mine. The Phase One sites received 80 percent of the total tonnage of vermiculite ore shipped from Libby from 1964 to 1990.

 The NAER team is working to achieve the following goals:
 1) Evaluate the 28 Phase One sites to identify past and present exposure pathways (ways people could have been exposed to asbestos from contaminated vermiculite);
 2) Evaluate exposure pathways to determine if a significant public health hazard exists and what actions are necessary to protect public health; and
 3) Formulate a plan to determine public health actions at sites not considered in the Phase One evaluation.

The NAER team is working with participating states to ensure national consistency in the evaluations, facilitate health consultations for those sites without a state lead, and compile findings in a comprehensive report. An overview of the first 28 sites will be released by year-end 2004.

The public health consultation and fact sheet for the Beltsville site are available at the following location:

 Beltsville Branch Public Library, 4319 Sellman Rd., Beltsville, Md. 20705-2543 (Telephone: 301-937-0294)

Public input and questions are encouraged. ATSDR responses will be provided in a comprehensive report that incorporates findings from all 28 sites, and not as an additional release of this site-specific health consultation. Comments on the health consultation must be submitted in writing by Oct. 31, 2003. Mail comments to:

Chief, Program Evaluation, Records and Information Services Branch
1600 Clifton Rd., NE (MS E-60)
Atlanta, GA 30333

The names of those who submit comments will not be printed in a public document. They are, however, subject to release through requests made under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.

Community members seeking information on the procedures or the content of the health consultation, or copies of the document, may contact Maria Teran-Maciver or Debra Joseph, community involvement specialists, toll free at 888-422-8737. Callers should refer to the Beltsville site.


Members of the news media may request an interview with ATSDR staff by calling Elaine McEachern or Scott Mall in the ATSDR Office of Policy and External Affairs at 404-498-0070.

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