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EPA Expands Clean-up Activities in Libby

Release Date: 5/10/2002
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      EPA Action Update #13 May 9, 2002

      EPA Expands Clean-up Activities in Libby
Helena, MT - U.S. EPA Administrator Christie Whitman approved in Washington, D.C. today an expanded clean-up plan for Libby, Montana including removal of asbestos-containing soil in yards, school grounds and parks as well as the targeted removal of asbestos-containing vermiculite insulation from Libby homes and businesses. This action is due to the uniqueness of the widespread and pervasive asbestos contamination in the former mining town of 6,000 residents. The death rate from asbestos-related disease in the Libby area is among the highest in the nation.

EPA believes that chronic exposure to high levels of asbestos for decades has compromised the health of many Libby residents. Gov. Whitman said, AI am deeply concerned about the serious on-going public health issues related to asbestos contamination in Libby. When I visited Libby in September last year, I told citizens we were with them for the long haul. This action continues our commitment.@

Noting work continuing at the site, the Administrator stated Region VIII would expand the cleanup activities in Libby to address all sources of asbestos where exposure may still take place, including vermiculite insulation in targeted buildings and homes. This action is necessary because an EPA and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry investigation indicated that people in Libby have been chronically exposed to asbestos by multiple exposure Apathways@ for many years and that cumulative exposures may be contributing to asbestos-related health effects B some 14 sources of exposures have been documented, including: home insulation, gardens, driveways, tracked-in material, house dust with higher concentrations of asbestos than allowed in occupational settings, and fill for baseball fields and running tracks. These exposures are made worse by local climate and topographic features that create long-term and frequent air inversions in the Libby valley.

Region VIII Deputy Regional Administrator Jack McGraw said, AGiven what we=ve learned in Libby, it is very important for the Agency to address all forms of exposure necessary to reduce the risks that these people face everyday. I admire the spirit and appreciate the cooperation of the community.@

Work will begin later this summer in the downtown Libby area closest to the former export plant, working outward through the site. EPA will give priority to properties where people are exposed in several ways or with high asbestos concentrations, or a current condition or use that may produce high concentrations in the air.

Over the past two years, the Agency has spent approximately $20 million to clean up several plants; an equipment salvage location; three schools, including athletic tracks and spectator stands; six homes; and other contaminated properties. The total cost for removal actions including insulation may reach as high as $55 million.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the U.S. Public Health Service have cooperated with EPA in ongoing exposure investigations in Libby. ATSDR and the Public Health Service are also working with local physicians, Lincoln County government, and the State Medical Officer will be following a group of patients to examine the clinical progression of the disease. This will focus on identifying the nature, presentation and progression of the disease endpoints from exposure to asbestos. In addition, EPA continues to work with the Department of Health and Human Services to provide appropriate resources to local health providers. In Libby, mortality from asbestosis occurs about 40-60 times above the expected level; and mesothelioma, a rare type of cancer strongly associated with asbestos exposure, is about a thousand times higher than expected.

In general, for homes outside of Libby, EPA continues to believe that the best strategy for asbestos containing materials in buildings is to leave it in place, unless removal is necessary to prevent disturbance during renovations or due to other activities of the resident Vermiculite insulation is shaped like a small nugget, and varies in color from silver-gold to grey-brown. It can be commonly found in homes as loose fill in attics and walls. Only trained professionals using microscopic examination can see the asbestos fibers in the vermiculite insulation. Homeowners should refrain from disturbing any asbestos material. EPA recommends having inspection or removal done professionally. For more information, consult: or the TSCA hotline on: 202 554-1404.

In January 2002, Montana Governor Judy Martz designated Libby as the state=s highest priority for cleanup and requested that the site be included on the EPA=s Superfund National Priorities List; the Agency proposed the site to the NPL on February 26. Updates regarding the Libby project can be found at: