First Public Health Emergency Declared by EPA
July 1 , 2009 - On Wednesday, June 17, the EPA announced that a public health emergency due to asbestos contamination exists in Libby and the area surrounding the former W.R. Grace vermiculite mine in northwest Montana. The announcement is the first public health emergency ever declared by the EPA. It is a move that will channel $6 million to health services for those affected by asbestos-related diseases and at least $125 million over the next five years for extensive clean up.
For residents and those working on the clean up in Libby, the announcement is bittersweet. Over seven years ago, EPA specialists working on the ground in Libby requested the emergency medical declaration to cover medical attention for those with asbestos caused diseases and to ensure proper asbestos clean up. Investigations performed by the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry found the frequency of the occurrence of asbestosis, an asbestos-related lung condition, in the Libby area staggeringly higher than the national average from 1979-1998. The EPA had previously declared the area a Superfund site but had not determined there was a public health emergency until Wednesday.
"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.
For long time advocate and Montana Senator Max Baucus, declaration of public health emergency was the result of years of dedication to the people of Libby. "This is a great day for Libby. This is a town that was poisoned by W.R. Grace, then had to wait year after year as the last administration failed to determine that public health emergency exists. But today is a new day," said Sen. Baucus.