Feds to test arctic village of Ambler for presence of asbestos

Posted: Sunday, July 31, 2005

Federal investigators plan to test the air in the northwest Arctic village of Ambler in mid-August because spots in the village are tainted with naturally occurring asbestos.

The investigators from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry will rent off-road vehicles and drive around the village on its unpaved roads with air sampling devices to find out if a dangerous amount of asbestos is in the village air.

For years, asbestos-tainted material from a village gravel pit has been used as pads for village homes and for playgrounds and roads.

Village air in the Arctic is typically clogged with dust from off-road vehicles in the summertime.

"We know that when (asbestos-tainted rock) is used as roads, it can be a problem," said John Wheeler, an ATSDR toxicologist who plans to visit the village Aug. 15.

So far, there are no known cases of asbestos-related disease in the region.

The regional tribal health nonprofit group, Maniilaq Association, asked for the investigation, Wheeler said.

The village's main concern is that it has been difficult to determine if there's a health risk from the asbestos, which is found in Ambler in a less-potent form called chrysotile, said Tom Bolen, public services director for the Northwest Arctic Borough.

It's not the first time that federal investigators have climbed aboard off-road vehicles to test the air for asbestos, Wheeler said.

The same technique was used to measure air levels of asbestos kicked up by off-road vehicles at a recreational trail near the Quincy Mine in Michigan, he said.



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