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EPA Finds a Public Health Emergency in Montana


The EPA announced on June 17, 2009 that Libby Montana is the center of a Public Health Emergency because hundreds of asbestos-related disease cases have been documented in the small community.

This is the first time EPA has had determined a public health emergency exists under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). Investigations performed by the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry have found asbestosis, a lung condition, in the Libby area occurred at substantially higher than the national average rate from 1979-1998.

“This is a tragic public health situation that has not received the recognition it deserves by the federal government for far too long. We’re making a long-delayed commitment to the people of Libby and Troy. Based on a rigorous re-evaluation of the situation on the ground, we will continue to move aggressively on the cleanup efforts and protect the health of the people,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.

The Libby asbestos site has been on the EPA’s Superfund National Priorities List since 2002, and cleanup began in 2000. Progress has been made in removing asbestos from the land and air. The risk of lung cancer, asbestosis, and other respiratory problems has decreased. While EPA’s cleanup efforts have greatly reduced exposure, actual and potential releases of amphibole asbestos remain a significant threat to public health in that area.

The Libby asbestos site includes portions of the towns of Libby and Troy and an inactive vermiculite mine seven miles northeast of the town.

Gold miners discovered vermiculite in Libby in 1881; in the 1920s the Zonolite Company mined the vermiculite. In 1963, W.R. Grace bought the Zonolite mining operations. The mine closed in 1990.

It is estimated that the Libby vermiculite mine was the source of over 70 percent of all vermiculite sold in the United States from 1919 to 1990. There was also a deposit of asbestos at that mine, so the vermiculite from Libby was contaminated with asbestos. Vermiculite from Libby was used in the majority of vermiculite insulation in the U.S. and was often sold under the brand name Zonolite.

More information: http://www.epa.gov/libby

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