The Environmental Protection Agency has awarded The Hamner Institute for Health Services a $2.1 million contract to research the health effects of asbestos exposure. The three-year study will focus on vermiculite, and in particular, asbestos-contaminated vermiculite that was widely used in insulation and industrial packing materials.

The Hamner Institute, a science center located in Research Triangle Park (North Carolina) and once associated with the chemical industry, is striving to become one of the largest independent health research centers in the country. The Hamner Institute currently has more than 30 years of national and international experience in public health and environmental sciences research and continues to advance technologies that conduct chemical safety assessments and tools for assessing human health risks in products and chemicals.

The world’s leading source of vermiculite was from a mine in Libby, Montana operated by W.R Grace. Although the mine was shut down in 1990, asbestos-contaminated vermiculite was shipped to hundreds of locations throughout the United States. It is widely known that workers of the Libby mines and residents of the town became ill with asbestos-related diseases including mesothelioma, a terminal form of cancer. The research proposed by the Hamner Institute will help to gauge the effect of the vermiculite on areas where the product was shipped.

Asbestos-related illnesses are still considered rare, although there are thousands of deaths each year that are attributed to asbestos exposure. It is the hope of the EPA and the cancer community that this contract and research will allow for significant progress in this field.