EPA releases estimates of asbestos toxicity in Libby, Montana

Earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released new draft toxicity estimates for the asbestos Superfund site in Libby, Montana.  The clean-up, which has been going on since 2000, stems from a vermiculite mine located approximately seven miles away from the town of Libby, says the press release.  According to the EPA, the vermiculite in the mine was contaminated with amphibole asbestos, and nearly 70 years of continuous mining has left the surrounding population at extremely high risk for asbestos-related diseases. The new statistics will be useful in determining how to proceed, reports the EPA.  Jim Martin, Regional Administrator for the agency in Denver, says, “Once we finalize these toxicity estimates, they will help guide remaining clean-up actions and identify exposure prevention practices to keep people safe.”  According to the report, the early estimates have been released in an attempt to keep residents informed about the progress made by EPA teams. The press release reports that tests of the ambient air at the Libby site do not show asbestos contamination greater than the target levels for EPA Superfund sites.  However, the EPA also admits that the clean-up is not yet complete, and that certain activities, such as disturbing local soil without wetting it first, may cause the asbestos concentration in the air to rise to dangerous levels.  Though the EPA has already removed 825,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil from 1,463 sites in Libby, it reports that it plans to clean up an additional 150 sites this summer. Despite the extensiveness of the EPA’s efforts, for many Libby residents, it is too little, too late.  According to an MSNBC article, as of May 2010 at least 400 people in the small town have died of asbestos-related disease, including mesothelioma cancer.  Since mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses can have a latency period of between 20 and 50 years, the full extent of the health crisis in Libby is yet to be realized.  Though the dangers of asbestos became widely known in the 1970s, the mine at Libby stayed open until 1990, says MSNBC. Even after the mine was closed, according to the EPA’s own reports, it took nearly ten years for the agency to begin cleaning up the surrounding area.  The area was listed as a Superfund site, but it wasn’t until the summer of 2009, when Lisa Jackson took over as EPA chief, that Libby was declared a health emergency, MSNBC says.  Though the EPA has spent more than $330 million at this site to date, both the MSNBC article and EPA press release report, there appears to be no estimated completion date to the Libby clean-up. References: Brown, Matthew. (May 24, 2010). “Asbestos contamination still taking toll on town.” Retrieved May 9, 2011 from MSNBC. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (May 3, 2011). “EPA releases draft estimates of asbestos toxicity in Libby and Troy, Montana.” Retrieved May 9, 2011 from EPA.gov. Previous: $7 Million Award to Secondhand Exposure Victim Upheld Next: Corruption in Brazil Concerning Asbestos Use