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Republican Health Care Bill Includes Asbestos Exposure Funding for Libby Residents

Illustration of legal cases for asbestos and mesothelioma

While many people are concerned about the new health care bill supported by Republicans, one provision stands out as a continued benefit for mesothelioma patients and other victims of asbestos exposure. Specifically, a special provision in the proposed piece of legislation, known as the American Health Care Act (ACHA), will provide support to those who live in Libby and were exposed to asbestos from the former W.R. Grace & Co. mine.

It is well known that W.R. Grace Company illegally dumped industrial waste containing large amounts of asbestos at several of their facilities in Libby. The vermiculite it contained is a naturally occurring mineral used in the production of insulating materials. The vermiculite ore also contained tremolite asbestos, which is extremely toxic.

During the mine’s 70 years of operation, the ore was shipped to more than 50 processing plants throughout North America. Much of the Libby vermiculite was used to produce Zonolite attic insulation but was also used in surfacing materials, window glazing compounds, waterproofing compounds, cements, adhesives, and plaster.

Senator Steve Daines (R-Montana) was a major factor in the inclusion of this provision in the ACHA. The Affordable Care Act (ACA), popularly known as Obamacare, included similar medical-care benefits for these patients effective in 2011. The new bill likewise includes ongoing screening and Medicare coverage for those diagnosed with asbestos disease as a result of living or working in Libby.

In 1999, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched an investigation of the Libby mines and surrounding communities. Those afflicted with asbestos disease not only included miners and mill workers, but also their families and neighbors who were exposed to ore dust which contained tremolite asbestos. This deadly mineral invaded every aspect of life in Libby—air, water, clothing, and food.

Mesothelioma cancer is one of the asbestos diseases that resulted. Treating this type of cancer is very expensive and the survival rate is poor.

Thousands of people have benefited from the “Libby provisions.” This includes 4,500 new people being screened for asbestos disease at the Center for Asbestos-Related Disease (CARD) clinic with over 2,000 individuals being diagnosed. As many as 1,846 victims under 65 years old have Medicare support as part of these provisions, and around 1,300 people are in the pilot program.

Even with these provisions, however, the ACHA could still be detrimental to mesothelioma patients and their families, especially for those patients who could lose their health care coverage under the new legislation. Outside of Libby, thousands of people each year are diagnosed with mesothelioma and are faced with the need to pay for critical cancer treatment. It is unclear at this point whether the Republicans have enough support to pass the ACHA in the House of Representatives.

Earlier this year, the EPA gave its final call for residents to request asbestos inspections in Libby. Financial assistance was offered in instances where an inspection uncovered the need to clean up asbestos from a property. If not cleaned up, it poses a health risk to even more Libby residents.