Asbestos Contamination Impacts Entire Mining Town
WASHINGTON, DC-October 25, 2002-The Libby Health Care Act (S.B. 3136) would create a $20 million medical trust fund to treat asbestos victims in Libby, Montana, home of an asbestos-contaminated vermiculite mine. Introduced by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), the legislation provides $100,000 per individual for hospitalization, prescription drugs, outpatient services, home oxygen, nursing visits, and diagnosis. It would cover those who were employed at the vermiculite mine as well as those who worked or lived in Libby for six consecutive months prior to the end of 1990, the year in which the mine closed.
Federal Government Knew of Libby Asbestos Risks, But Failed to Act
In a statement of findings and purpose, S.B. 3136 notes:
- The vermiculite ore mining process released thousands of pounds of asbestos-contaminated dust into the air around Libby every day;
- The federal government was aware of accumulating asbestos pollution in Libby as early as 1941, but failed to take any corrective action for decades;
- The United States Environmental Protection Agency did not respond to massive asbestos contamination in Libby until 1999, when high rates of asbestos disease and death made national headlines;
- Libby residents suffer from asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis at a rate 40 to 60 times the national average, and from the cancer mesothelioma at a rate 100 times the national average;
- Many sick Libby residents cannot use private health insurance, and the cost of providing care through Medicaid is high;
- The Health Care Act will provide a permanent source of funding for medical benefit payments to current and former Libby residents.
The federal government would finance the Libby health care program, but could be reimbursed through a current Justice Department lawsuit against the former vermiculite mine owner, W.R. Grace. Also, S.B. 3136 allows an individual or business to make a contribution to the Libby health trust fund and receive a charitable deduction.