Jersey Devil and the Occult (Asbestos)

Amosite Mine in Collingswood, New Jersey

Amosite is a commercial term for the fibrous mineral grunerite (Fe7Si8O22(OH)2). Grunerite and its fibrous form, amosite, does not occur naturally in the sedimentary terrain of southern New Jersey.

And yet, my son and I encountered a treasure trove of amosite in the attic of a house on East Franklin Avenue, in Collingswood, New Jersey, not far from the Cooper River. We were within 24 hours of buying a house to renovate, when an astute building inspector called our attention to unusual attic insulation.1 Most houses built right after World War I have no insulation, or perhaps cork insulation between the attic joists. This house had loose, greyish-brown tufted fibrous material several inches thick spread across the entire attic floor. A local analytical laboratory confirmed that the loose mineral fiber was largely amosite.2

Asbestos in Attic1

The where, when, how, and why there were many cubic yards of amosite in the attic of a house in Collingswood is a mystery, but one clue is that there are several shipyards nearby, including what once was the New York Shipbuilding & Dry Dock, the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, and Cramps Shipyard. My unverified hunch is that after World War II, these shipyards gave away, or sold, loose amosite asbestos, which was no longer needed, and the use of which was discouraged by Naval regulations in favor of molded, pre-formed asbestos-containing insulation. The presence of such loose, fibrous amphibole asbestos in residential construction raises serious issues for exposure assessment in epidemiologic studies and in litigation cases, both of which proceed on the glib assumption that workplace exposures are the only meaningful asbestos exposures to be measured. Occult exposure to amosite or even worse, crocidolite, may well explain any number of isolated “black swan” cases of mesothelioma among workers with limited exposure to chrysotile. The amosite in the house’s attic was truly occult – hidden and scary – to the sellers of the house and to us as potential buyers.3 The contract for the sale of the house fell apart over the sellers’ and buyers’ inability to agree upon what the appropriate remediation would be.

One of the serious disservices performed by Dr. Irving Selikoff was his conflation of the various asbestos mineral types as equally dangerous.4 His motivation was quite transparent. He and his staff were working closely with plaintiffs’ counsel, and other plaintiffs’ expert witnesses, in asbestos personal injury and property damages lawsuits. Although the amphibole asbestos minerals were known to be much more dangerous than chrysotile (white asbestos), the mining and distributing companies were mostly South African, and judgment proof in United States courts. The lawsuit industry required propagating the myth of equal risk in order to keep the chrysotile mining and milling companies from avoiding liability by drawing scientific comparisons between and among the different fiber Despicable Me 3

1 Inspections Plus, LLC, Clementon, New Jersey 08021.

EMSL Analytical, Inc., 200 Route 130 North, Cinnaminson, NJ 08077.

See alsoAsbestos isn’t just in old fibro sheeting it can be in everything from fences to carpets,” The Courier Mail (No. 28, 2015) (“Bulk loose fill insulation is now rarely found but may be encountered unexpectedly, e.g. DIY lost insulation and fire-stop packing around cables between floors.”).

SeeHide the Substantial Factors in Asbestos Litigation”; “Selikoff and the Mystery of the Disappearing Amphiboles.”

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