MCA

The city of Libby, Montana, has a long, sordid history with asbestos exposure. Now, however, administrators in Libby and surrounding Lincoln County are looking to give residents new ways to deal with asbestos safely.

The new Lincoln County Asbestos Resource Program was created by the City-County Board of Health, having been modeled after similar programs in nearby communities throughout Montana and Idaho where asbestos has been a problem. When planning the program, the Board of Health wanted to make sure that it was flexible enough to evolve with future discoveries and problems related to asbestos in Libby. Currently, the Asbestos Resource Program is funded through 2016 from a grant by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The Asbestos Resource Program consists of three primary components:

  • Education: Program staff members will coordinate speaking events with community organizations, schools, and service groups to discuss the risks of asbestos exposure and how to reduce those risks.
  • Resources: New or improved ways have been developed for residents to become aware of and manage asbestos-related risks, such as ambient air monitoring and a hotline to help property owners properly deal with contaminated materials.
  • Initiatives: Local ordinances and regulations will be revised or established to help mitigate the risk of future exposure to asbestos.

Having been in the limelight of the fight against asbestos exposure for a decade and a half, the City of Libby has been described as having “Superfund fatigue” by County Commissioner-elect Mark Peck. The cost of cleaning up asbestos from approximately 2,000 properties has reportedly reached more than $400 million – with as many as 500 sites still left to be decontaminated and the possibility of revisiting sites that have already been cleaned.

The good news is that, according to a recent report from the EPA, the asbestos removal efforts appear to be working. The report claims that concentrations of asbestos in Libby are as much as 100,000 times smaller than when W. R. Grace Company operated the world’s then-largest vermiculite mine near Libby. (The mine ceased operations in 1990 due to asbestos concerns.) Air quality in Libby, the report also contends, is now similar to that of other cities in the state.

With asbestos removal costs still rising, however, and the risk of developing mesothelioma still lurking, the hope is that the new Asbestos Resource Program will provide useful information to keep residents and visitors safe from exposure until the EPA’s cleanup project is completed. This will be a tall order, considering that W. R. Grace distributed vermiculite containing 2-6% asbestos extensively throughout the city. The carcinogenic product was used everywhere from building insulation to Little League ball fields.1

Residents of the City of Libby and Lincoln County, Montana, can call the Asbestos Resource Program at (406) 283-2442 or send an email to lcarp@libby.org. Additional details about the program are available online at www.lcarp.com.