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PO Box 360
Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

For Release:
March 14, 2005

Fred M. Jacobs, M.D., J.D.
Commissioner

For Further Information Contact:
Marilyn Riley
(609) 984-7160


 
DHSS Releases Health Consultations on Zonolite/W.R. Grace Site


 

          TRENTON – An initial state-federal review of the Zonolite/W. R. Grace site shows no elevated cancer rates in the community nearest the site, where asbestos-contaminated vermiculite was processed for more than 40 years.  However, vermiculite processing did pose a health hazard to factory employees and their families, and soil contamination at the site remains a concern.

          The Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) and the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) today recommended further actions to protect the community and better understand the extent of the public health hazard, including a health study of asbestos-related disease in former employees and their families.

          These findings and recommendations were outlined in two health consultation reports released today.  The Zonolite/W.R. Grace site, which ceased operation in 1994, is located at 35 Industrial Drive in Hamilton Township.  ADDI, a paper shredding and recycling firm, now occupies the site.

          “In the months ahead, we will work closely with the community and former workers to discuss their concerns.  We want to collect more detailed information about work processes inside the plant and the ways in which the community may have been exposed to asbestos from the site,” said Health and Senior Services Deputy Commissioner James Blumenstock. “This will help us design a more extensive assessment of the health impact on the community.”

          The Zonolite/W.R. Grace site in Hamilton is one of 28 being evaluated in the first phase of ATSDR’s National Asbestos Exposure Review project.  Between the early 1920s and 1990, vermiculite contaminated with naturally occurring asbestos was mined in Libby, Montana and shipped to more than 200 sites nationwide for processing.

          At the Hamilton site, vermiculite was “exfoliated,” or heated until it greatly expanded in volume.  It was then used for insulation, packing and in other products.  Exfoliation releases more asbestos fibers into the air than other types of processing.  The Hamilton site exfoliated about 350,000 tons of vermiculite between 1948 and 1994.

          Asbestos exposure has been linked to lung cancer, digestive cancers and mesothelioma, a cancer of the membranes lining the chest and abdominal cavities.  Exposure is also associated with asbestosis, a chronic degenerative lung disease caused by lung scarring.

          Soil at the site was contaminated at levels requiring remediation.  Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency completed the first phase of soil removal at the site.  Further remediation is planned to remove additional contaminated soil.

          ATSDR and DHSS today released two health consultations on the Zonolite/W.R. Grace site – one analyzing cancer incidence in the nearby community and one assessing whether people were exposed to site contaminants.

          For the cancer incidence consultation, the department analyzed State Cancer Registry incidence data for 27,000 Hamilton Township, Lawrence Township and Trenton residents living within one mile of the site.  Cancer cases from 1979 through 2000 were included in the study.

          According to the report, none of the asbestos-related or other cancers was found to be elevated.  This includes the rate for mesothelioma, which was less than the statewide and national rates.  As a result, there appears to be no need for further analysis of cancer rates in the nearby community, the report said.

          The second health consultation examined what is known about the site and the potential human exposures to asbestos.  It found that former Zonolite/W.R. Grace employees were exposed to hazardous levels of asbestos, and that their household contacts were also exposed through asbestos carried home on their clothes, hair, shoes and automobiles.   Not enough information was available to determine the extent of other potential hazards, such as community contact with on-site waste piles, dust from the facility that settled on residential areas, and ADDI employee exposure to asbestos remaining on the site.

          The report recommended that soil clean-up continue, and that off-site soil samples be taken to further evaluate levels of asbestos contamination.  The EPA also should monitor air inside ADDI to evaluate possible asbestos exposure there.

          In addition, the report recommends that a health screening or health study be considered for former Zonolite/W.R. Grace employees and their families, focusing on asbestos-related diseases.  Former and current residents concerned they might have been exposed should contact their physician to be examined for evidence of asbestos-related diseases, the report recommended.

          DHSS will hold the first of a series of community meetings to discuss the health consultation findings and gather additional information from the community.  The first meeting will be held March 22 at 7 p.m. at the Klockner School, 830 Klockner Road, Hamilton.

          To better understand community exposures from airborne asbestos, the department – in cooperation with ATSDR and EPA -- is developing a mathematical model to estimate exposures.   This data, the results of the two consultations and additional information from the community meeting will be used to conduct a more in-depth health assessment to determine the scope of community exposure and recommend further follow-up actions.        

          Anyone who has questions or is concerned about asbestos exposure may contact DHSS at (609) 584-5367 to obtain a package of informational materials.

          Copies of the Zonolite/W.R. Grace health consultation reports, and citizen guides to each report, may be viewed and downloaded from the DHSS web site at: www.state.nj.us/health/eoh/cehsweb/sitepage.htm#Zonolite.

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