EPA Wrapping Up Involvement At Libby Superfund Site

Illustration of legal cases for asbestos and mesothelioma

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working on wrapping up its involvement at the Libby Asbestos Superfund site in Montana. Officials from the City of Libby and Lincoln County met with public health officers, congressional staff, and Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) representatives to review Libby’s Record of Decision.

The Record of Decision closing means the active remediation of the site will be completed, but it’s not the end of operations and maintenance. Institutional controls will continue to manage long-term exposure of any asbestos the EPA doesn’t remove.

“We’re the ones who are going to have to live with this in perpetuity,” said Lincoln County Commissioner Mark Peck. “I want to know that we’ve done everything we can at this level to make sure it’s taken care of.”

A major concern is over the asbestos being left in walls, ceiling and other sealed areas in over a thousand structures. Construction, remodeling, fires, and more can release the toxic amphibole asbestos into the air. If that doesn’t happen, time and decay will eventually cause the toxin to become airborne anyway.

“The finality of the Record of Decision is about the cleanup remedy itself,” said Peck. “It’s a closure for the emergency remediation. It doesn’t close the door on the public health emergency.”

The public health emergency was declared in 2009 due to the increasingly large amount of asbestos-related health problems occurring. This resulted in a variety of benefits for those affected, including Medicare. This was a historical moment because a public health emergency was never before related to a Superfund site. Therefore, there was no established process in place.

The long-term institutional controls and who would pay for it was another issue that was left “intentionally vague” in the beginning of the year. Project Manager Rebecca Thomas said both would be developed with the community’s input in order to best meet the residents’ needs.

“I left the meeting much more confortable than I went in with regard to the long-term management,” said Peck. “We’ve got a long way to go and the devil’s in the details, but I left with assurances that the public health emergency will remain in place after the Record of Decision and the community will be one of the main drivers of the institutional controls program and long-term management.”

Funds are currently coming from the W.R. Grace & Co. banking settlement of $5 million, plus, an extra $11.8 million from the initial settlement. Also, starting in 2018, about $600,000 a year will come from the Zortman-Landusky fund.

“The starting place is an in-depth analysis of the number of structures with Libby amphibole in place,” he said. “The funding is still up in the air, but we have to do that analysis to determine what’s left behind and what it’s going to cost. We have to know what we’re managing.”