Libby, Montana Residents Still Risk Asbestos Exposure

W.R. Grace Mine and Contaminated Vermiculite Responsible for Asbestos Exposure

January 10, 2003-Residents of Libby, Montana, are still being exposed to hazardous levels of asbestos in certain town areas, according to a draft public health assessment made by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). These levels are "especially hazardous to sensitive populations, including people who have been exposed for many years already, smokers, and young children," the report said.

ATSDR pointed out the increased rates of asbestos-related disease and deaths among Libby residents due to their past asbestos exposure.The town's problems stem from the operation of an asbestos-contaminated vermiculite mine. 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. Although finally shut down in 1990, the Libby mine contaminated surrounding areas. Asbestos tailings from the mine remained on roads, and the substance found its way into soils used in playgrounds and gardens. Also, asbestos-containing vermiculite was used in Zonolite brand insulation in Libby homes (see Removal of Zonolite Insulation from Homes).

The ATSDR report concluded that continuing to expose Libby residents to asbestos poses an unacceptable risk for both residents and workers. It recommends that the government do the following:

  • Continue to investigate and clean up the Libby site to reduce or remove sources of asbestos.
  • Conduct a toxicological investigation of the risks associated with low-level exposure to asbestos.
  • Conduct health education for the Libby community, especially concerning smoking and asbestos.
  • Create a registry to track the health of former workers, their household contacts, and residents exposed to Libby asbestos.
  • Continue to provide information to the Libby community about the hazards of asbestos.
  • Continue to provide information to the local medical community on how to diagnose and treat asbestos diseases such asbestosis and mesothelioma.

People may add their comments to the ATSDR report by sending written information to the agency's Records and Information Services Branch from December 3, 2002, to March 14, 2003. See the ATSDR press release and summary for contact names and addresses. It includes a detailed health guide for anyone suffering from an asbestos-related disease.

Brayton Purcell has been handling asbestos cases for almost 20 years, helping asbestosis and mesothelioma victims defend their legal rights. Please feel free to contact our mesothelioma attorneys if you have been diagnosed with an asbestos disease and would like to explore your legal options.