Little Rock, Arkansas - The presence of asbestos in a North Little Rock neighborhood has residents on edge, worried about the fact that their families may have been exposed to the toxic mineral.
According to a story aired on KTHV-TV News, neighbors in an area known as Dixie are on alert now that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found traces of asbestos in their community as well as at nearby Conley Park and the former North Little Rock Salvage Site. The latter was once the location of a vermiculite processing facility. The vermiculite processed at the plant was tainted with asbestos, originating at the infamous W.R. Grace and Co. mine in Libby, Montana. In the town of Libby, more than 400 people have already died of asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma. Thousands more are sick.
The EPA has been conducting testing in the area for nearly a year and has determined that there is indeed asbestos present, but has told residents that the health risk to them is “minimal.” Nevertheless, residents say they are hard-pressed to believe the EPA, given the circumstances in Libby. Furthermore, most have been spooked by the presence of men in hazmat suits digging through the soil in various parts of the Dixie neighborhood and surrounding areas. What they fear most, say some residents, is what the EPA will find in their own front yards, and they don’t think the agency has been truthful when dealing with residents’ questions.
“To me, it's a cover up. It was a lot of questions but no answers. They could end up stricken with some sort of cancer and not even know why," says Brigette Williams, who noted that she grew up in the Little Rock, Arkansas Dixie neighborhood watching various related diseases kill her acquaintances one by one.
"They was healthy people and then all of a sudden they was stricken with cancer and then by the time they got treated, it was too late and they ended up passing away," said Williams.
Althea Foster, a spokesperson for the EPA, says that they did indeed find some asbestos in samples taken from the southern part of the community, but noted that they are “actionable” and that they plan to remove the contaminated soil. Williams and her neighbors think it’s too little, too late.
"They said it was asbestos and they claim it wasn't hazardous and that they dug up everything that they was suppose to dug up and they replaced it and this, this, and that but I just feel like, you know, there's more to it than that," Williams said.
Figures show that Williams may be right. The Arkansas Health Department has noted that over the past 10 years, some 3 percent of Dixie residents have been diagnosed with lung cancer. However, the department says that those numbers don’t prove that asbestos is the culprit.