Libby is a beautiful, picturesque town located in the northwest corner of Montana. Framed by the Cabinet Mountains and Kootenai River, more than 12,000 people call Libby home, and many of those people consider Libby to be their worst nightmare.
It’s a subject we’ve often covered on this blog because it is one of the greatest, best-known asbestos tragedies of our time. Since 1999, the EPA has been investigating asbestos-contaminated vermiculite in the area of Libby. This vermiculite was discovered in the 1800s by miners, and in 1920, Zonolite began mining the substance. In 1963, W.R. Grace bought out the mining operation, and in 1990 the plant was closed. It was later discovered that the vermiculite mined in this area for soil conditioners and building insulation contained naturally occurring asbestos materials: the same materials that can cause mesothelioma and other asbestos related-illnesses.
Since the EPA and emergency response team’s attention was focused on Libby in 1999, in 2002, Libby was placed on the EPA’s National Priorities List. Properties and land in the area of Libby were inspected for asbestos materials. Extensive cleanup efforts have been taking place in the mine area and the community of Libby for years, and samples are still tested today.
The tragedy of Libby lives on and moves beyond the small Montana town’s borders. The Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry has identified 28 other states that processed a minimum of 100,000 tons of vermiculite from those asbestos laden Libby mines. Each of these sites has been instructed by the EPA to take action regarding their contamination and the spread of the deadly asbestos materials beyond the processing facilities.
In 2002, it had been determined that the mortality rates in Libby, Montana were 40% to 80% higher than expected and lung cancer mortality rates were increased as well. Employees of the plants that processed this asbestos laden vermiculite were exposed, as well as their family members, and residents in the area of facilities processing the vermiculite. The same risks hold true for those 28 other states that processed vermiculite from the Libby mines.
The Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry has supplied public reports for those 28 states with facilities that, although they may no longer be in operation, may have exposed employees, employee family members, and residents of the community to airborne asbestos.