For at least 20 years, asbestos fibers were released daily and carried southward by Lake Michigan's currents from the Johns-Manville Asbestos Superfund site in Waukegan, Ilinois. The Superfund site is adjacent to the south end of Illinois Beach State Park.
This 150-acre asbestos disposal area contains about three million cubic yards of off-specification products and wastewater sludge containing asbestos, and to a lesser degree, lead and chromium, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA.
Water from this Superfund site is periodically released into Lake Michigan, allowing millions of asbestos fibers per liter of water to contaminate the lake, according to tests conducted by the EPA in May 2002.
Lake currents move the asbestos fibers southward, warns the Illinois Dunesland Preservation Society, and they wash up on the beaches at least as far south as Chicago’s Oak Street beach.
The Oak Street beach has the largest area of deep water swimming in the city and is a training ground for hundreds of triathletes, scuba divers and distance swimmers.
Rare amphibole asbestos minerals, several hundred times more harmful to public health than common urban asbestos fibers, exist on the Oak Street beach in Chicago, the Illinois Dunesland Preservation Society warns. If people cannot avoid Lake Michigan beaches, the society is offering tips to minimize breathing asbestos by adults, children and pets.
- Avoid Eating and Drinking at the Beach! Asbestos and amphibole fibers can contaminate your hands, food, and containers. Eat in picnic areas away from the beach.
- Avoid Disturbing the Sand! Microscopic asbestos can be released from the sand when agitated. The federal Centers for Disease Control found that amphibole asbestos fibers can be released from wet sand and become airborne.
- Shower Off and Clean Belongings Prior to Leaving the Beach! The deadly amphibole asbestos fibers can be found wherever beach sand can go. Wash your whole body including hair, ears, and under fingernails. Pets should also be washed down prior to leaving the lakefront and beaches.
- Carefully Clean or Isolate Items Used at the Beach! The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warns, 'Don't track material that could contain asbestos through the house.'
Take care when shaking out towels and blankets that may have come into contact with sand. Remove all beach clothing before entering your car or home. Launder clothing, blankets, and towels separately. Store shoes and hard to clean items outside.
- Avoid Certain Cleaning Methods! Do not dust, sweep, or vacuum debris that may contain asbestos. According to the EPA, 'These steps will disturb tiny asbestos fibers and may release them into the air.' The use of High Efficiency Particulate Air, HEPA, filtered vacuums is recommended for cleaning up toxic dust and fibers.
The Illinois Dunesland Preservation Society asked Camplin to review studies by the EPA, and the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, ATSDR, as well as state studies and tests of asbestos from the Johns-Manville Superfund Site.
Camplin concluded that the studies were 'deeply flawed and severely lacking in standardized scientific protocols.'
Illinois Dunesland Preservation Society President Paul Kakuris said angrily, 'Officials rigged studies and tests to cover up their involvement in obstructing and not enforcing pollution hazard violations against polluters facilitating and dumping asbestos fibers into the drinking water supply.'
'Waves wash fibers onto the beaches where sand releases asbestos during beach activities,' Kakuris said, 'exposing millions of unwitting victims to deadly asbestos fibers while corrupt public officials and polluters' consultants rigged studies, using government funds.'
But EPA Region 5 officials said on May 2 that their public health agency partner, the ATSDR, issued a formal consultation letter that validates the technical approaches used in a study 'to assess potential exposures to low levels of asbestos found at Chicago's Oak Street Beach.'
The study was conducted in September 2005 by LFR Inc., an Elgin, Illinois contractor retained by the Chicago Park District. The study evaluated whether people could be exposed to asbestos while engaging in typical beach activities, such as playing catch, building sandcastles and sunbathing.
The ATSDR letter states, 'The air samples collected contained asbestos concentrations consistent with levels that would be expected in urban areas and that recreational activity at Oak Street Beach does not pose a public health hazard.'
'ATSDR's review of the data collected by the Chicago Park District in 2005 provides an extra level of assurance that the Oak Street Beach testing was appropriate and sufficient to reach a public health conclusion,' said Regional Superfund Director Richard Karl. 'Going forward, EPA and its federal partners will continue to be available to the park district for consultation as requested.'
However, the EPA admits in the description of the Johns-Manville Superfund Site on its website, 'Air sampled in the vicinity of the site contained asbestos fibers. Groundwater contained asbestos, arsenic, and several volatile organic compounds, VOCs. Waste materials and sludge were contaminated with asbestos, heavy metals, and VOCs. The most significant threat to public health prior to cleanup was the inhalation of asbestos fibers. The site was dusty during dry periods and posed health concerns to the surrounding communities and to the onsite workers.'
Since asbestos fibers may cause harmful health effects in people who are exposed, all new uses of asbestos have been banned in the United States by the EPA.