Funds Approved for Asbestos Disease Research Center in Libby, Montana

Research Center to Study Asbestos Related Diseases

LIBBY, MT - November 19, 2004 - The Libby Council has approved $250,000 in seed money for the creation of a local research center to study asbestos diseases such asbestosis and mesothelioma. The facility will be part of the Center for Asbestos Related Disease, or CARD clinic, which is now caring for 1,000 patients in the town.

According to Dr. Brad Black, the clinic's medical director, interest in the research center is widespread, from 38 U.S. National Cancer Institute sites to Australian facilities. The University of Cincinnati, University of Montana and Mount Sinai Hospital would also like access to the Libby research center's observations and data (Daily Interlake, November 14, 2004). Dr. Andrij Holian, internationally known expert in environmental toxicology at the University of Montana has commented about Libby: "We have quite a vested interest there. Libby is our focus because it is here and very relevant. At the same time we recognize the [asbestos] issue goes beyond Libby, and anything we learn will have impacts" (Great Falls Tribune, March 8, 2004).

Asbestos in Libby's Vermiculite Mine

Asbestos-contaminated vermiculite was mined in Libby beginning in the 1920s. W.R. Grace took over the mine from 1963 until 1990, when it was shut down.

Vermiculite is a mica-like ore that has been used in insulation, soil conditioners, and animal feed. Not only were workers at the vermiculite mine exposed to asbestos, but their families may also have come into contact with asbestos that was brought home on the miners' clothes. Asbestos tailings from the mine made their way onto roads. Asbestos even contaminated the soils used in some playgrounds and gardens. Many homes in Libby also contained Zonolite brand insulation, which was made from the asbestos-containing vermiculite. The Environmental Protection Agency has been removing asbestos-contaminated soils and other asbestos materials in Libby since 2000, and the town has been declared a Superfund clean up site.

One government report shows that for the period from 1979-1998, the death rate among Libby residents from asbestosis was about 40 times higher than the rest of Montana and 60 times higher than the rest of the United States (Mortality in Libby, Montana, 1979-1998, ATSDR). Another study reported pleural scarring and other lung abnormalities in 18% of participants in a Libby medical testing program. The risk of pleural abnormalities increased with age and length of residence in the Libby area (Year 2000 Medical Testing of Individuals Potentially Exposed To Asbestoform Minerals, ATSDR)

The vermiculite problem extends beyond Libby became vermiculite was shipped throughout the country for processing. When heated, vermiculite "pops" or "exfoliates," forming the lightweight substance used in soil additives and Zonolite insulation. Asbestos fibers may be released into the air during exfoliation, creating a serious health hazard for factory workers. The finished product, Zonolite, can also pose a safety risk for consumers because remodeling or drilling into the insulation to make repairs will spread asbestos dust.

The Hazards of Asbestos Exposure

Most of the asbestos from the Libby mine is in a form known as tremolite, a greenish needle-like crystal that is a calcium, magnesium, iron silicate. Chrysotile is a more common type of asbestos, accounting for 90% of the substance in products. Other common members of the asbestos family include amosite or brown asbestos and crocidolite. All types of asbestos are hazardous.

Recently, a study by the Environmental Working Group found that about 10,000 deaths per year nationwide are due to asbestos exposure. The report included deaths from mesothelioma, asbestosis, gastrointestinal (GI) cancers, and asbestos-related lung cancers. Sadly, the number of deaths per year may still be increasing, according to government reports and other statistics. Because asbestos diseases develop decades after the victims' first exposure to asbestos, we have not yet seen the full extent of the problem.

At Brayton Purcell, we have handled cases involving the full range of asbestos diseases from lung scarring to mesothelioma. Some of our clients had on-the-job asbestos exposure; others became ill through secondhand contact with asbestos. If you have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, please feel free to contact our mesothelioma attorneys us for more legal information.