Between the early 1900’s through 1993, asbestos ore was mined out of three locations on Belvidere Mountain, located in the towns of Eden and Lowell, Vermont. During this timeframe a number of different owners and operators mined the ore, the last being a group of mine employees (the Vermont Asbestos Group – VAG) who owned and operated the mine between approximately 1975 and 1993. The mining process produced 2-3% chrysotile asbestos from open cuts leaving behind many million tons of waste rock and tailings.
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In 2004, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) began investigating the site when it became apparent that the mine tailings were migrating off-site via surface water flow. In 2006, State officials conducted biological and/or chemical assessments of eleven locations within two affected watersheds. Their summary report stated that the preliminary data provided evidence linking the tailings piles within the Hutchins Brook and Burgess Branch watersheds both directly and indirectly to chemical and physical biological stressors identified during the assessment. Elevated levels of chrysotile-fibers and associated metals in the water column and sediment, absence of canopy cover and the resulting poor macroinvertebrate community at specific locations within Hutchins Brook, Hutchins Brook Tailing Tributary, and Burgess Tributary are likely the result of the tailing piles eroding asbestos materials into adjacent waterways.
In a letter dated July 30, 2007, the Secretary of the ANR requested EPA assistance. EPA removal representatives visited the site in August, 2007 and along with VT Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) officials, inspected water diversion trenches previously constructed and areas of the site that were being impacted by precipitation and drainage pathways.
On September 24, 2007, EPA’s Office of Emergency Management concurred with Region 1’s request to conduct a removal action at this site. This concurrence was necessary due to asbestos being the primary contaminant. On September 28, 2007, the Director of the Regional Office of Site Remediation and Restoration signed the Action Memorandum.
In October 2007, EPA and their contractors mobilized to the site. After receiving site specific asbestos awareness training as required by the State of Vermont, the crew worked on-site until demobilizing for the winter on November 20, 2007. Actions included the laying out and creation of a clean support zone prior to the construction of deposition basins, water-bars, diversion trenches, and berms to keep contaminated runoff from reaching the off-site water bodies. These features are meant to divert ‘clean’ runoff from entering the waterways downstream of the tailings piles or if contaminated, direct the runoff into on-site areas where deposition of the sediment/fibers can occur prior to the flow leaving the site.
On June 9, 2008, EPA re-mobilized to the site to continue efforts to keep asbestos laden runoff water from leaving the property. Actions included inspection of features completed the previous fall and reworking a number of areas to be able to accept additional flow and sediment, which was necessary due to extremely heavy precipitation and ensuing runoff. In addition, new berms and trenches were constructed around the original mine’s tailings pile. These structures were designed to carry runoff beyond the pile and reconnect to Hutchins Brook, maintaining the hydrologic flow to down-gradient wetlands.
Final demobilization occurred on August 28, 2008.