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Media Announcements - New Orleans, LA

Historical Document

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Workers at Nine Former Vermiculite Processing Plants Were Exposed to Asbestos
Former Zonolite/W.R. Grace & Company site in New Orleans evaluated


For Immediate Release: September 22, 2005

ATLANTA - - Workers that processed vermiculite from a mine in Libby, Montana at nine former plants located throughout the United States were exposed to asbestos and are at increased risk for developing asbestos related health problems, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) reports in public health consultations released today. The plants that processed Libby vermiculite are located in Dallas, TX; Ellwood City, PA; Honolulu, HI; Marysville, OH; New Orleans, LA; Newark, CA; New Castle, PA; Portland, OR; and Wilder, KY.

Today's releases bring to 21 the number of public health consultations completed in a series of 28 evaluations being conducted at sites across the United States that received and processed vermiculite mined in Libby, MT. The vermiculite from Libby contained asbestos. While exposure to asbestos does not mean a person will develop health problems, ATSDR has linked some exposures to Libby vermiculite to respiratory illnesses. The remaining reports will be released by the end of 2005.

Between 1965 and 1989, the former Zonolite/W.R. Grace & Company, located at 4729 River Road in New Orleans, processed vermiculite mined in Libby, MT. The major findings for the site are consistent with many of those found at the other sites evaluated, mainly:

  • Former workers are most at risk for asbestos exposure
  • Those that lived with former workers while Libby vermiculite was being processed at the plant between 1965 and 1989 also could have been exposed to asbestos by workers carrying home asbestos fibers on their hair and clothing.

ATSDR recommends that former workers take specific steps to protect their health and improve quality of life:

  • Learn more about asbestos exposure,
  • See a doctor with experience in asbestos-related lung disease,
  • Quit smoking,
  • Get regular flu and pneumonia shots.

People could have been exposed to asbestos if they handled or played in waste rock, a by-product of vermiculite exfoliation. At some vermiculite plants, workers or people in the community may have brought waste rock from the plant to their homes. This waste rock was used in many ways, for example in gardens and as fill or driveway surfacing material.

When processing vermiculite between 1965 and 1989, the plant might have released dust and asbestos fibers into the air. ATSDR cannot determine the extent of exposure to former residents who lived near the plant.

Most current residents living around the former plant are not being exposed to asbestos from the site. The plant stopped processing asbestos-contaminated vermiculite in 1989. It is possible that workers or people in the community may have brought home asbestos-contaminated waste rock home to use in their gardens and other areas. When waste rock that is uncovered and open to the air is stirred up, asbestos fibers may be released into the air.

For more information about the health consultation, community members can contact Health Communication Specialist Maria Teran-MacIver, toll-free, at 1-888-422-8737. Callers should refer to the former Zonolite/W.R. Grace & Company site in New Orleans.

ATSDR, a public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, evaluates the human health effects from exposure to hazardous substances.


Members of the news media can request an interview by calling the NCEH/ATSDR Office of Communication at 404-498-0070.

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