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Asbestos found in Conley Park and former NLR vermiculite processing center | News

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Asbestos found in Conley Park and former NLR vermiculite processing center

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) --  Some people in North Little Rock fear their city park and their homes may be contaminated with asbestos.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency held a community meeting tonight with residents to explain why they're testing Conley Park and the Former North Little Rock Auto Salvage yard for the hazardous material.

The North Little Rock Salvage Site is not an operating business anymore but from 1953 to 1989, it was a vermiculite processing facility. Vermiculite is a common mineral compound used as an insulator and the only way to obtain it is to mine for it.

The vermiculate processed in North Little Rock came from a mine in Libby, Montana. That mine was later found to be infected with asbestos and officials say more than 200 people have died since being exposed to the material there. Now, residents in North Little Rock feel their health is at risk.

Bernadette Conley and Elizabeth Houston grew up together in the Dixie community of North Little Rock.

"This is a close community. Everybody out here knows everybody," says Conley.

They were the first to arrive at St. Stephen Baptist Church Thursday evening.

"We've got a problem. We definitely have a problem," says Conley.

"We've found some contamination on site. Some asbestos contamination on site and we found some off site as well," says Althea Foster with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

She says the EPA gathered the community to inform them of asbestos detected at a former vermiculite processing center and a small area of Conley Park.

"We hope and we expect that we will have all the information we need to characterize the site," says Foster.

The EPA told residents that asbestos can only be harmful if airborne.

But for people like Conley who grew up breathing the air in Dixie, the news is not comforting.

They say there was a fire earlier in the year at that former processing center. The smoke covered the community of Dixie.

"This being a low economic area, everybody don't trust the EPAs and the people that come out and do the testing. They just don't trust them," says Conley.

"It is unlikely that there may be health issues at this point," says Foster.

But residents did not agree.

"People have died. People that were once healthy and then you look up and all of a sudden they're gone. We know things happen, we have bad health but sometimes things are unexplainable. I don't care if it's two inches. Asbestos causes cancer," says Conley.

The EPA says they're taking more samples this weekend and the next step is to come in and remove the contaminated soil. They told residents asbestos is linked to lung cancer and mesotheleoma and according to residents, those are the illnesses they are facing in the area.

The Arkansas Department of Health says everyone is exposed to asbestos at some point in their life and it is the amount of exposure that determines health risk.

The amount in the Dixie community is still being determined.