In 2002, Libby, Montana, was named a First Priority Superfund site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The town, which was home to the world’s largest natural deposit of vermiculite, has been undergoing cleanup to undo the damage left by more than 40 years of asbestos mining and processing. These measures, which have been underway for over a decade, were summarized in a recent update released by the EPA.
A public health emergency was declared by EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson in 2009 due to the high incidence of malignant mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases in Libby residents. The EPA is working with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help provide health care to area residents who developed illnesses from inhaling asbestos. The new toxicity report was released ahead of schedule in an attempt to increase community awareness and involvement with the cleanup process.
The toxicity draft, which was released on May 3, 2011, confirmed that cleanup actions have effectively reduced the airborne asbestos concentrations to a level below current EPA targets. By meeting this goal, Libby residents now face a less than 1 in 10,000 risk of developing lung cancer. The overall levels of asbestos in the air are now 10,000 times lower than they were before the mine closed in 1990.
Since 1999, over 825,000 cubic yards of asbestos-laden soil have been removed from 1,463 sites including homes, schools, ballparks and public recreation areas. Approximately 150 more residential cleanups within the superfund zone are scheduled for the summer of this year. Over $330 million has been spent to reduce the asbestos contamination in Libby and the neighboring town of Troy.
Despite the undeniable progress that has been made in cleaning up Libby, the EPA’s statements indicate that certain activities can disturb asbestos that still remains in the soil and ground within the town. While additional cleanup measures are conducted, residents are warned to observe safety guidelines and pay special attention to upcoming bulletins that will address the remaining risks.