Montana and Asbestos Exposure

Montana is known as a state with vast expanses of wilderness, and a rather small human population. Sadly, a relatively high percentage of the population has been affected by asbestos-related diseases. First used in construction materials during the 1850s, the mineral quickly became popular for its physical properties. Since its implementation as a cheap substance for construction and other applications, many people who have inhaled its dust. Inhalation can lead to mesothelioma and other diseases. Most deaths within Montana have been within the larger urban areas, possibly because the material was more frequently used in commercial and residential applications. Even people who did not directly touch the material may be at risk. Over long periods of time, the asbestos slowly breaks down and releases dust. This is especially true when used as cover for ceilings and walls. Second hand exposure is now known to lead to mesothelioma as well. Many individuals who were employed in professions where they installed or removed the material are thought to be at increased risk. This is due to the fact that when the material is being handled it is more likely to create dust. After inhalation, the particles become trapped in the cavities of the chest and abdomen. Cell damage can then occur after being exposed to asbestos for years and decades. After enough damage is caused within their DNA, an individual could develop mesothelioma. In addition to the danger of urban exposure, Montana is home to vermiculite mines.  The vermiculite, also commonly used in insulation, is not harmful in itself, but often occurs in deposits with asbestos.  Digging up the vermiculite disturbs the asbestos, which can then be inhaled.  The entire town of Libby, Montana, has been declared an emergency Superfund site by the EPA, and the clean-up has been ongoing there for more than ten years. In Montana, more than 200 people have died from asbestos-related diseases since 1980. The extended latency period associated with these diseases is thought to make these numbers far lower than the actual amount of people who have died, since some patients may not connect their present symptoms with exposure from years ago. Researchers at the National Institute of Health believe that the total number of confirmed cases in the US could represent only 20 percent of the actual number of fatalities. Reference: EPA