EPA Gives Last Call for Asbestos Cleanup in Libby

Illustration of legal cases for asbestos and mesothelioma

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently provided a last call for residents of Libby, Montana, and the nearby town of Troy to have their homes inspected and cleaned up if asbestos was found. Over 260 people requested federal inspections, leading to 70 clean ups.

The Libby Superfund site is the result of mining vermiculite that was contaminated with asbestos. The most productive vermiculite mines were located in the Zonolite Mountains near Libby.

The vermiculite ore from the Libby mines contained tremolite asbestos, which is extremely toxic and believed to be responsible for the unusually high number of asbestosis and mesothelioma deaths in the area.

Those afflicted include not only the miners and mill workers, but also their families and neighbors who were exposed to ore dust that contained tremolite asbestos. This dust invaded every aspect of life in Libby—the air, water, clothing, and food.

Gayla Benefield is one of those affected people. Three generations of her family have died or become sick from asbestos-related diseases traced to a mine operated by W.R. Grace in Libby.

In Montana in general, 190 residents died from mesothelioma from 1999 to 2015. The state’s annual mesothelioma death rate is 11.6 people per million, which is significantly higher than the national average.

“We had an overwhelming response,” said Remedial Project Manager Mike Cirian. “The federal agency will clean up roughly 70 new properties in the Libby area and roughly 50 will be carried over to next year.”

Back in August, the EPA gave the Montana Department of Environmental Quality $1.7 million for ongoing work at the Superfund site.

Even earlier in the year, a $25 million settlement was reached between asbestos victims and the State of Montana. It will provide compensation to over 1,000 people who were exposed to asbestos by W.R. Grace mine and later diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases.

From the 2000s to 2017, over 7,500 properties in the Libby Superfund site were inspected, requiring 2,440 clean ups. With the last call, residents have been given until March to have their properties inspected and cleaned up at no cost. For any replies past March, costs are the responsibility of the owner.

“We were trying to complete all properties in Libby and we’re very close,” said Cirian. About four years ago, 800 people had not received federal inspections, but that number has decreased to around 280 property owners who own 320 properties in the area.