Asbestos Exposure & Bans

Reduction of Asbestos Exposure in Libby, Montana, at Top of City’s Priority List

Written By:
May 02, 2012
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Written By: Mark Hall,
May 2, 2012

The Libby Board of Health has put forth an initiative for a plan that would reduce current and future risk of asbestos exposure to residents throughout the Montana city made infamous by asbestos.

With funds provided by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the initiative aims to focus on developing a long-term plan to reduce asbestos exposure threats now and in the future, as the EPA cleans up the Superfund site.

A Superfund site is a location that has been designated by the EPA as a place that needs cleanup, because of the presence of hazardous waste. Asbestos, the mineral known for causing respiratory diseases like mesothelioma and lung cancer, is commonly found at these sites.

The EPA has been working to clean up the Libby Superfund site, but much work is still needed.

“Since 1999, the EPA has been removing vermiculite and Libby amphibole contaminated materials from residential, commercial and public properties throughout South Lincoln County,” said Allen Payne, Libby City-County Health Committee member.  “EPA’s cleanup effort is ongoing and may continue for a number of years, but eventually the EPA will complete its cleanup work.”

Because much of the initiative will be executed after the EPA’s asbestos removal is complete, Libby’s Board of Health’s plan will allow the city to focus on prevention rather than cleanup.

For an area with a devastating health past, continued environmental cleanup efforts are greatly needed.

A Tragic History

Libby, Montana, was the home of one of the world’s largest vermiculite mines and subsequently one of the world’s largest asbestos-contaminated sites.

Dating back to 1919, the city was a commercial haven for mining. The minerals mined were used for countless insulation materials including attic insulation, construction building materials and related products.

W.R. Grace & Company owned these Libby mines and employed over 200 people between the years of 1963 and 1990. As vermiculite was being mined, it was eventually discovered that asbestos was contained within large quantities of vermiculite.

For decades, shipments of asbestos-tainted vermiculate were sent to countless parts of the world. Locally, workers who spent hours each day around the deadly substance eventually suffered.

More than 400 deaths are attributed to asbestos-caused diseases in the city. And since 1979, more than 1,500 people have developed similar illnesses.

The lasting effect of the W.R. Grace mine has not disappeared.

A Brighter Future

Despite a past filled with illnesses and death, the town known for asbestos is moving forward.

According to committee members, the underlying objective is to create an effective plan to protect the public’s health.

Officials from Libby are not the only one involved in the initiative. Representatives from two other locales in Montana, Troy and Eureka, are expected to participate in the initiative. These two areas neighbor Libby and have been known for also being affected by asbestos exposure.

With the conclusion of an April meeting that outlined the plan, involved members are expected to now begin evaluating different ways to reduce asbestos exposure.

According to local reports, the committee members include: Libby City Councilwoman Peggy Williams, Mayor Doug Roll, Environmental Health Director Kathi Hooper, Attorney Allen Payne, County Commissioners Marianne Roose, Tony Berget, Ron Downey, Health Department Nurse Mickey Carvey and Dr. Brad Black.

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