Illinois Safety Engineer Warns of Asbestos Exposure at State Beach
The issue of the public's possible exposure to asbestos on an Illinois state beach and alleged oversight by the Department of Health and Human Services' Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) was the focus of a congressional hearing last week examining problems with ATSDR public health reports and how they have been developed. Specifically, Congress is investigating possible mistakes made on the part of the ATSDR and its failure to identify the threat of asbestos in an Illinois Beach State Park public health announcement released in 2000.
Jeffery C. Camplin, a Certified Safety Professional and Certified Professional Environmental Auditor in Illinois testified in Washington, D.C., on Thursday before the House Committee on Science and Technology's Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee about alleged problems and mistakes made by ATSDR. Camplin said the agency's alleged failure to properly identify and communicate the threat of asbestos at Illinois Beach State Park in Waukegan, Ill., has exposed millions to possible illness and that the public's health is at continued risk at the site, located on the Lake Michigan shoreline north of Chicago.
"We are here today to demand accountability for the harm caused to public health by the inexcusable and deliberate behavior of ATSDR staff in downplaying elevated levels of toxic microscopic asbestos along the entire Illinois Lake Michigan shoreline," Camplin said. "I am concerned about the lax behavior and misuse of science by ATSDR/Centers for Disease Control leadership and concerned as to why ATSDR purposefully downplays the chronic asbestos exposure to millions of Illinois citizens each year."
Camplin began his testimony by noting in 1993 he took his wife and three young children to the state beach in question. After building sand castles and burying each other in the sand, his wife noted how the car, the children's hair, their ears, and shoes were full of sand. The sand ended up in their home, the laundry room, and other places.
"However, it wasn't sand," Camplin said. "It was asbestos contamination my family and millions of other families had experienced. And today, years later, despite efforts to protect the public, our Dunesland Preservation Society research indicates that ATSDR violated its mission to serve the public by purposefully not using valid science, by not taking responsive public health actions, and by providing untrustworthy health information."
Camplin noted the cleanup of an asbestos Superfund site done years ago at the south end of the Illinois Beach State Park allowed trillions of asbestos fibers to be released from an unfiltered pipe into Lake Michigan from that time to today.
"The incompetency of this cleanup allowed large areas of asbestos-contaminated lake sediments to be dredged and dumped on and off shore at heavily visited public beaches. Then, I believe, rigged data was generated to conclude the massive asbestos contamination created was not hazardous to the millions of citizens who frequent these areas," Camplin said. "Current science discredits and invalidates all of ATSDR's past asbestos human health evaluations in Illinois, including the 'rubber stamp approval' for the Illinois Beach State Park and at hundreds of others sites throughout the nation. Yet the agency does not acknowledge this fact."
Camplin added that just last week ATSDR issued a "Health Consultation" alert which, he said, fails to warn the public about the deadly microscopic amphibole mineral fibers ATSDR found in beach sand and air and instead invites families to the shoreline, which he contended is chronically contaminated with visible pieces of asbestos. "These pieces of asbestos get on people, on our children, in our cars, in our homes, and, ultimately, into our lungs," Camplin said.
During his testimony, Camplin noted several examples that caused alarm including the ATSDR questionable testing times during the year and the agency's finding that the tremolite asbestos fiber at Chicago's Oak Street beach posed no elevated risk to human health. Tremolite asbestos fiber, he noted, is the same fiber that devastated the town of Libby, Mont.
"The dredging of toxic asbestos contaminated sand continues in Illinois, spreading increased risk of mesothelioma cancer rates that are already elevated when compared to the national average," Camplin said. "How high must the body count get?"