Asbestos Health Screenings in Libby, Montana, Expanding

Asbestos Exposure & Bans

Highly specialized asbestos exposure health screenings in Libby, Montana, have gone mobile.

In an effort to identify lung abnormalities at their earliest stage, the groundbreaking Center for Asbestos Related Disease – known as CARD – has begun touring the state, offering its services to those unable or unwilling to travel.

The efforts have been well received.

Libby is a small town in rural northwest Montana that is home to one of the largest human-made environmental disasters and longest-running asbestos cleanup project in American history.

Although restoration is all but complete in the scenic and charming mountainside community, the damage done by mining in the area still lingers in many who lived through the toxic times.

Libby has the highest percentage of asbestos-related lung disease – and resulting respiratory disease – in the U.S. The contamination stemmed from 70 years of asbestos-contaminated vermiculite mining that affected people in Libby and throughout Lincoln County.

Asbestos Is Gone but Problems Remain

Although the mining ended in 1990, lingering asbestos remained a serious problem for another 20 years. And those affected by asbestos diseases such as mesothelioma cancer can take 20-60 years to begin showing obvious symptoms.

CARD is a specialized medical center and community nonprofit in Libby that was formed in 2000. It is dedicated to the diagnosis and long-term care of patients with asbestos-related diseases who have been such a part of Libby area health care concerns for decades.

An estimated 800 residents are screened annually at the CARD medical clinic. Of those, health officials say 25% have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related condition. 

The most common diseases are asbestosis, pleural plaques, pleural effusions, COPD, mesothelioma and atelectasis. Asbestos exposure also can lead to lung cancer, laryngeal cancer and ovarian cancer.

In total, more than 2,400 people – about 15% of the total population of Lincoln County – have been diagnosed at CARD with respiratory diseases related to the asbestos contamination. Many of those are still being monitored at the CARD center.

“It’s a long-term issue here,” former CARD medical director Dr. Brad Black told The Mesothelioma Center. “People sometimes forget that, and don’t understand the lag time between long-ago exposure and disease today. It’s something you always have to be aware of here.”

CARD Now Traveling Across Montana

This summer, for the first time, CARD didn’t wait for residents to come to the clinic to be tested. CARD is now on tour, traveling through the state to offer assistance to those who need it, particularly Libby residents who moved away.

For the first mobile clinic in June, CARD went to Billings, Montana – 500 miles away – and screened 13 people. In Missoula, 200 miles away, 33 people came for the testing in July. 

The next mobile clinic is scheduled for Oct. 10-12, in Kalispell, Montana, which is 90 miles from Libby. Future dates in future cities will be announced soon. There is talk of also going out of state.

Free screening is available to anyone who spent at least six months in Lincoln County, at least 10 years ago.

Asbestos-Related Disease Screening Is Extensive

The screening process includes a chest X-ray, spirometry breathing test, full physical exam, a CT scan of the chest if deemed necessary, and a complete blood workup. All tests will be read by a CARD medical provider who is trained in identifying early symptoms of asbestos diseases.

CARD staff includes doctors, physician assistants, nurses, respiratory therapists and researchers, all specialists in asbestos diseases.

The clinic has expanded to include academic research that has led to worldwide diagnostic and treatment advances for asbestos diseases.

An estimated 700 residents from the Libby area have died of asbestos-related diseases during the past half-century, some of whom once worked in the mine and many others who did not.  

This extensive early testing for asbestos diseases is vital to successful treatment. Mesothelioma cancer, for example, often doesn’t show obvious symptoms until in its latter stages when mesothelioma treatment is limited and often ineffective.  

Less than a third of those diagnosed with mesothelioma are even eligible for mesothelioma surgery – which has proven to be the most effective treatment – because the disease is often too far advanced. 

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