Beach Season Kicks Off at Illinois' Asbestos-Contaminated Beaches

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The recent start of the 2008 beach season along Lake Michigan has prompted a local conservation group to issue advice on how beachgoers can minimize inhalation and ingestion of toxic asbestos fibers.

Considering the Illinois shoreline has an extensive history of asbestos contamination, the recent start of the 2008 beach season along Lake Michigan has prompted a local conservation group to issue advice on how beachgoers can minimize inhalation and ingestion of toxic asbestos fibers.

Located in Waukegan, Illinois, the Johns-Manville Asbestos Superfund Site is home to one million tons of asbestos waste. The 150-acre site was used as an asbestos disposal area and harbors approximately three million cubic yards of off-specification materials and wastewater sludge. Bordered by Lake Michigan and Illinois Beach State Park, water contaminated with asbestos fibers is periodically released from this site into the lake. Currents transport the fibers southward, which wash up along beaches stretching as far south as Chicago's Oak Street Beach.

According to tests performed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2002, water released from the site contaminates the lake with millions of asbestos fibers per liter of water. Dredging operations located immediately offshore has compounded the problem by disturbing settled asbestos in the lake's sediment. The disturbed fibers break free of the sediment and are subsequently washed ashore. Some of this dredged sediment was even used by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to replenish sand lost due to beach erosion at Illinois Beach State Park.

A major concern is the fact that much of the asbestos contamination is tremolite asbestos, which is considered to be several hundred times more hazardous to human health than asbestos fibers commonly found in urban settings. Exposure to tremolite asbestos has been strongly linked to the development of Mesothelioma cancer. Mesothelioma is an extremely aggressive cancer that attacks the body's mesothelial cells, which compose the mesothelium lining that protects organs and body cavities. Very few cases of mesothelioma have ever been cured, putting the mortality rate at nearly 100 percent.

Public officials have claimed the present levels of asbestos are not a threat to public health, but Jeffery Camplin, an environmental/health safety engineer and nationally known asbestos expert, refutes these claims. Requested by the Illinois Dunesland Preservation Society to review studies performed by the EPA, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), as well as a contractor hired by the Chicago Park District, Camplin found the studies were "deeply flawed and severely lacking in standardized scientific protocols."

In an effort to help prevent future cases of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases, the Illinois Dunesland Preservation Society is offering tips to beachgoers to minimize the inhalation and ingestion of potentially deadly asbestos fibers. The society advises against eating and drinking at contaminated beaches, as well as disturbing the sand in any way. Visitors of the affected beaches are also recommended to rigorously shower and clean belongings before leaving, as asbestos fibers can be found anywhere beach sand reaches. The society also warns against certain cleaning methods, such as shaking off towels or dusting shoes off, which can release asbestos fibers into the air.

Concerned beachgoers are likely wondering what, if any, activities are free from the risk of exposure to asbestos at Lake Michigan's beaches. According to Illinois Dunesland Preservation Society President Paul Kakuris, "Waves wash fibers onto the beaches where sand releases asbestos during beach activities, exposing millions of unwitting victims to deadly asbestos fibers while corrupt public officials and polluters' consultants rigged studies, using government funds." Naturally, the society strongly advises against anyone visiting Lake Michigan's contaminated beaches.

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