EPA Makes Final Push for Libby Asbestos Cleanup

Posted on January 31, 2017

Libby, Montana is the site of the W.R. Grace vermiculite mine and mill that closed in 1990 and is the site of significant asbestos exposure. According to reports, nearly 3,000 residents and former miners have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, and over 400 have died from mesothelioma. Now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is coming to the end of its cleanup efforts and is calling on residents to sign access agreements by March 31.

According to a Jan. 10 press release, the EPA announced the final opportunity for owners of residential and commercial property in Libby and Troy, Montana to participate in the investigation and cleanup of Libby Amphibole asbestos.

“EPA is providing this final opportunity to ensure the protection of future residents from possible exposures,” as reported in the press release. “Property owners who do not participate could become financially responsible for future cleanup.”

The EPA reports that since 1999 the Agency has completed an investigation and/or cleanup at 7,500 of 8,100 private properties identified within the Superfund site, with cleanups being conducted at 2,447 properties. In addition, the Agency touts “air asbestos concentrations today are about 100,000 times lower than when the mine and processing facilities were operating.”

The W.R. Grace vermiculite mine, shut down in 1990 and now a Superfund site, was found to have an asbestos deposit in the mine. Contamination from the site led the federal government to declare Libby a health emergency.

Exposure to asbestos is the direct cause of multiple diseases including mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer – with mesothelioma perhaps the most tragic. Mesothelioma is a rare, incurable cancer that occurs in the thin layer of tissue that covers the majority of the body’s internal organs, the mesothelium.  It can take from 15- 60 years for symptoms of mesothelioma to become present, leading to the potential for many more mesothelioma cases to be diagnosed in the Libby population in the upcoming decades.

The EPA reports it has completed cleanup at all schools and parks, the former vermiculite processing plants and other contaminated public areas. During these efforts, “well over one million cubic yards of asbestos-contaminated waste” has been removed from major source areas and structures.

For more information, contact the EPA’s Information Center in Libby, 108 E. 9th Street or call 406-293 6194.

Photo Credit: Libby, MT Area Chamber of Commerce