Libby Public Health Emergency
Press Conference Video
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and U.S. Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester announce the public health emergency at Libby, Montana, at a joint press conference on June 17, 2009 (run-time: 28:56)
EPA announces a public health emergency at Libby Asbestos Superfund Site
On June 17, 2009, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson issued a public health emergency (PHE) finding at the Libby Asbestos Superfund Site in northwest Montana. Over the past several years, hundreds of cases of asbestos-related disease have been documented in the communities of Libby and nearby Troy.
This is the first time EPA has made a finding under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (or Superfund) that conditions at a site constitute a public health emergency. The finding recognizes the serious health impacts from asbestos contamination in Libby. EPA is working closely with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which will help provide needed asbestos-related medical care to Libby and Troy residents.
Note: the documents below are Adobe PDF files (about PDF)
PHE Determination and Findings (3 pp, 107K)
Summary Information on Libby PHE (6 pp, 61K)
Action Memo (24 pp, 6.5MB)
Questions and Answers
What is the basis for the EPA's determination of a public health emergency (PHE)?
Despite considerable progress on the cleanup in Libby, EPA believes that conditions present significant ongoing threats to public health from exposure to asbestos. The PHE is based on the uniqueness of exposure in Libby and Troy due to a number of factors:
- Atmospheric and terrain-related conditions.
- Multiple sources of potential exposure and exposure pathways.
- Limited available medical care.
- High rate of occurrence of asbestos-related disease. For example, the incidence of occurrence of asbestosis, a lung condition, in the Libby area is significantly higher than the national average.
Why is EPA issuing the public health emergency?
During her Senate confirmation hearing, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson committed to review the situation at the Libby site. Her evaluation was based on available site-specific information, sound science and EPA's legal authorities. Following her review, the Administrator decided that conditions at the site present a significant threat to public health and that it is appropriate for her to find that a public health emergency exists under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, or Superfund).
Is this the first time EPA has issued a public health emergency determination under the Superfund law?
Yes. This is the first time in EPA's history that it has issued a public health emergency determination under the Superfund law.
What impact will the determination have on residents of Libby?
The determination recognizes the serious impacts of contamination at Libby and Troy to the public and underscores the need for health care for residents. EPA is working closely with the Department of Health and Human Services, which will provide asbestos-related medical care to Libby and Troy residents.
EPA has also issued a document for the Libby site that delineates the continued actions that will be taken to address the public health emergency including the cleanup of residential properties in Libby.
Will the determination change what EPA is doing in Libby?
EPA's cleanup work at the site will continue, including removal of uncontained vermiculite insulation in homes. In addition to cleaning up yards, EPA inspects attics and interior living spaces for visible vermiculite, and if visible vermiculite is present, EPA addresses those areas. If visible vermiculite is not present, EPA samples the dust in the house. If the dust poses a risk, EPA cleans the house with a HEPA vacuum and wet wipe. EPA conducts clearance sampling to ensure that the cleanup is effective and provides residents with a HEPA vacuum to use for future interior cleanup.
The agency will expeditiously analyze the results of an activity-based sampling effort undertaken at the Libby site. This sampling works to assess the level of exposure residents might encounter during outdoor activities such as digging, raking and mowing. Preliminary review of the sampling results indicates that the current removal action level for asbestos in soil is likely to be revised to a lower concentration. If EPA revises its cleanup action level, more properties may require cleanup.
Will the cleanup in Libby be conducted faster as a result of the determination?
EPA will move to aggressively clean up the site with a renewed focus and collaboration with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). EPA will proceed with the cleanup in the town at the fastest rate that the Libby infrastructure allows.
Why is EPA planning to leave asbestos-containing vermiculite insulation in the walls of homes?
Unless asbestos-contaminated vermiculite inside the walls is disturbed, there is no exposure to it and, therefore, it poses no risk and does not need to be removed. EPA has made the Environmental Resource Specialist Program available to homeowners when walls are accidentally breached or if the resident plans remodeling work that will disturb the asbestos inside walls.
How long will the public health emergency last?
CERCLA does not establish a timeframe to revisit this determination. EPA has discretion to change the finding whenever conditions merit. Any change that EPA makes to the finding will be in consultation with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Libby site community, which includes Libby and Troy, Montana.
Does this mean EPA is going to issue a public health emergency at other vermiculite sites around the country?
This public health emergency is related to the specific conditions at a particular site. The Administrator's finding applies only to the Libby site which includes the towns of Libby and Troy, Montana, and is based on the specific ongoing impacts to public health from exposure to asbestos in these communities. It is based on the uniqueness of exposure in these towns due to multiple sources and pathways of exposure, both indoors and outdoors, and significant cumulative exposures resulting in a high rate of occurrence of asbestos-related disease.
Do homes around the country containing vermiculite insulation require cleanup?
No. EPA recommends that vermiculite insulation be left undisturbed whenever possible. If removal is necessary for remodeling or other purposes, EPA recommends that a trained asbestos removal professional be used to ensure the material is handled without risk of exposure to the home's residents.
More information about vermiculite insulation is available on EPA's national vermiculite website.
Will EPA be addressing the other vermiculite processing plants around the country?
EPA has evaluated over 270 sites around the country where Libby vermiculite ore was processed. The EPA has completed cleanup actions at 14 sites, and states or responsible parties have conducted cleanups at six additional locations. EPA is now undertaking further assessments at 105 of the processing sites where 95 percent of the Libby ore was shipped. None of these sites present the conditions that exist in Libby, since they did not involve mining. As a result, this reduces the principal routes of exposure and concern for neighboring communities.