Several asbestos deposits are scattered across Idaho, including the former Kamiah deposit. The Kamiah deposit was the state’s only producing mine, home to brittle mass-fiber anthophyllite and tremolite. Other non-producing deposits were located in Clearwater County and Adams County.
Idaho businesses, like businesses across the nation, used the toxic mineral in their daily operations. Yet, the state ranks low in the top states for related illnesses. Workers were exposed through machinery parts and insulation, as well as some final products such as construction materials and lumber. Exposure to asbestos can cause serious respiratory diseases, such as mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer.
Asbestos in schools has been a concern among Idaho residents for decades. In March 2021, asbestos-containing pipe wrapping was found in Boise High School. This prompted administrators to move to virtual classes while the asbestos was remediated. The contaminated pipe wrapping was discovered while upgrading the HVAC equipment.
Occupations and Environmental Areas at Risk in Idaho
The United States Geological Survey identifies several natural asbestos sites in Idaho. Most of the deposits are in the panhandle. In addition to the commercial mine at Kamiah, other sites include:
- The Blacktail asbestos prospect
- The Orofino Creek anthophyllite deposit
- The Teakean deposit
- The Olson asbestos prospect
- Several unnamed occurrences in Adams County
Deposits in Idaho were found among host rocks such as talc, magnesite and iron oxide. When these minerals were mined, the accompanying asbestos may have been released into the air. Asbestos in its natural state also can become airborne from weathering.
While miners may have been exposed in Idaho mines, other occupations also placed employees at high risk for exposure. With a booming science industry, chemical plants and technology factories are major employers in Idaho. Monsanto Chemical Plant and Idaho Chemical were two prominent manufacturers in the area that potentially exposed their employees in equipment and protective gear. Additionally, power plants such as the hydroelectric power plant at Pocatello may have contained the mineral in the air, soil and site machinery.
Jobsites with Known Exposure
Monsanto Co. and its spinoff companies have been named as defendants in multiple lawsuits totaling 570 accusations by 2003. While the Monsanto plants in Soda Springs, Filer, Nampa and Payette were not specifically named in these lawsuits, the company has notoriously exposed its workers to numerous environmental toxins, and workers in their Idaho branches were at high risk.
The Western Equipment Company, also known as the Western States Equipment Company, was another Idaho job site where exposure led employees to develop related diseases. In 2011, a former Western Equipment forklift mechanic and equipment salesman who repaired the company’s machinery filed a lawsuit. As part of his job, he was required to clean and replace asbestos-laden brakes for Western Equipment forklifts. The company continued to use these drum brakes even though alternatives were available.
Asbestos Jobsites Across The State:
- Boise Cascade Corporation
- Clover Club Foods
- Lodge Brothers and Bullet Pawn Shop
- Northwest Roads Company
- Southern Industries Piping
- Westvaco Mineral Production
- Bonner County Courthouse
- Fluor Corporation
- Intermountain Gas Company
- Plateau Supplies Company
- Union Pacific Railroad Company
- Yankee Machine Shop
Asbestos Remediation in Idaho
Precision Demolition and Abatement, LLC, was fined $36,000 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2009 for several violations of the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants under the Clean Air Act. Similarly, contractors at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory paid more than $160,000 in penalties in 2001 for violating federal emissions laws.
The former Priest River landfill in Boise, polluted for years with chemicals, metals and asbestos, is currently being turned into a waterfront park under the State Department of Environmental Quality. The asbestos removal phase of the plan started in 2010. The former Meridian Creamery is also being turned into a new city-owned facility despite EPA studies that revealed limited asbestos use on the site.
Idaho State University
Medical researchers in Idaho are developing new treatments for the growing number of asbestos-related problems. In 2010 the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded Idaho State University a $191,962 grant to learn more about the cellular changes asbestos exposure can cause.