Though there are still lingering concerns about mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to hand off its responsibilities for decontaminating homes in the Libby, Montana area, entrusting that job to state and local entities so that they can move on to the next step of the Superfund project: cleaning up the vermiculite mine that was the original source of the problem. Libby is the site of one of the worst environmental disasters in American history. W. R. Grace & Company mined for vermiculite in the area for years, negligently exposing its workers and the entire community to the carcinogenic asbestos that contaminated the mine. The material saturated the town and its surroundings, as it was dumped into the air and transported via open trucks and rail cars through residential neighborhoods.
Asbestos is well known as the cause of malignant mesothelioma, a rare and fatal form of cancer that generally claims the life of its victims in less than two years. It also causes asbestosis, asbestos-related lung cancer, COPD and other respiratory illnesses, with many of them not showing symptoms until forty or fifty years after the initial exposure. Libby has seen hundreds of deaths and thousands of illnesses over the years. The asbestos that contaminates Libby was not discovered until 1999, and since that time the EPA has been concentrating on cleaning the town and the homes that were most affected. That job will be completed in the fall and that is when the mine, which has been capped, will become the main focus of their attention.
EPA Libby Remedial Project Manager Mike Cirian explains that the project for cleaning up the mine is still in the planning stages. “We’re actually getting into that feasibility, where we take all the information we’ve gathered over the years. The different activity-based sampling. The different test plots and the different activities and sampling that we’ve done up there. And use those to come up with what will be a combination of different things. Or, one final remedy that will work for OU-3.”
Speaking of the work that was done in his home, Libby resident Jack Myers acknowledges that he was initially resistant but has great respect for the meticulous nature of the work that was done. “It was a very professionally done job. And, like I said, with an engineering background I could recognize good work. And it was good work…you have to have a clean bill of health if you think about future sales.”
Libby residents will have to spend the rest of their lives worrying about their risk of mesothelioma.If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with the disease, we are here to help. Contact us today at 1-800-966-2244.