Libby, Montana residents are familiar with asbestos and its dangers. The infamous vermiculite mine in the town is full of naturally occurring asbestos. Hundreds of Libby residents have died from diseases related to asbestos exposure and thousands more are currently suffering.
The Libby Mine
The mine was opened in the 1920s by Zonolite Co. and purchased by W.R. Grace in 1963. It was operational until 1990. When in operation, the mine was producing an estimated 80 percent of the world's supply of vermiculite, a mica-like mineral that when heated expands into a lightweight, fire-resistant material that's primarily used in insulation and fertilizer. Vermiculite is not known to be harmful to human health, but the mine in Libby is tainted with naturally occurring asbestos.
Libby's Clinic for Asbestos-Related Disease
Libby's Center for Asbestos Related Disease (CARD) Clinic is now being bombarded with lawsuits and document requests. The clinic was founded by Dr. Brad Black, who is known throughout the community as a caring advocate for those battling asbestos-related illnesses.
W.R. Grace is no longer a defendant in legal actions after declaring bankruptcy. However, International Paper-a parent company of a lumber mill in Libby, Maryland Casualty-W.R. Grace's insurance provider, Burlington Northern Santa Fe-which transported deadly ore, and the state of Montana-which knew about the dangers of asbestos in the mine and said nothing, continue to bombard sufferers and the clinic with lawsuits.
Defense attorneys for the aforementioned entities are also constantly trying to discredit Dr. Black. They claim that he has mistaken the diagnoses of the thousands that are ill and that asbestos is not as deadly as we know it to be. Defendants have also hired doctors and radiologists, who are untrained in the symptoms of the diseases, to dispute Black's findings. That along with constantly subpoenaing documents from the clinic, Dr. Black and the pro bono lawyers are buried in paperwork.
What's Next for CARD?
As Dr. Black soldiers on, he expects the number of asbestos-related illness cases to grow due to the lengthy latency periods associated with the diseases.
The possibility of auto-immune diseases cropping up is another of his concerns. When human bodies fight asbestos fibers, it weakens the immune system and makes the patients more susceptible to attacks.
The clinic continues to focus on research specifically related to the Libby varieties of asbestos-related disease; the better they can understand the illnesses, the better their care will be. Research requires years of work - and funding. None of which is guaranteed.
Sources: 1, 2