Vermiculite Mine Contaminated Town with Asbestos
LIBBY, Montana-January 4, 2002-Montana Governor Judy Martz recently announcedthat she will support the designation of the asbestos-contaminated town of Libby as an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund site. She also will use Montana's "silver bullet" privilege, which is the one-time right of each state to put a Superfund project on the fast track, sidestepping certain public comment periods. Libby could be given a national priority designation as early as this spring, according to Montana's EPA director, John Wardell (The Spokesman Review, December 21, 2001).
News of the Superfund designation came as a relief to many Libby residents, who have been lobbying for an expedited cleanup of their town. In the last two years, the EPA has conducted asbestos removal activities in Libby on a limited emergency basis. The original source of the problem is an asbestos-containing vermiculite mine which was once operated by W.R. Grace & Co.
Asbestos from the mine has injured workers as well as contaminated Libby's roadways, schools, playgrounds, gardens, and homes. Asbestosis and other lung diseases are common among former mine workers and their families. Medical testing has also revealed a high rate of asbestos cancer among other Libby residents.
Sadly, the vermiculite problem goes even beyond the town of Libby. Vermiculite is a mica ore that is used in soil conditioners, insulation and other products. Asbestos-contaminated vermiculite has been shipped worldwide, and there are other vermiculite production sites in addition to Libby. See Vermiculite Mines for more information.