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EPA says Asbestos in Libby Wood Chips Not a Hazard

Pat Guth contributes news and insightful content for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance.

Patricia Guth

January 15, 2012

Libby, Montana - Offering a bit of good news to a town that’s been overwrought with asbestos woes, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reported that the testing of wood chips at the site of the former W.R. Grace and Company vermiculite mine in Libby, Montana reveals that they do contain some asbestos, but the levels are extremely low and pose no danger to anyone who has been in contact with the chips, which were long sold for landscaping uses.

According to an Associated Press article, the testing was prompted by concerned residents, business owners, and officials of the Montana town where more than 400 people have already died of asbestos-related diseases like pleural mesothelioma and another 1,700 or so have been sickened. The chips were literally spread all over town, used at private residences, business properties, and in school yards and playgrounds. More chips were shipped around the country before it was determined that they might be toxic.

“The Environmental Protection Agency found no asbestos in recent air tests designed to mimic human exposure from spreading the wood chips,” the article reported. “The agency previously had said a ‘very low level’ of asbestos had been found in tests of the wood chips themselves.”

The report prompted the EPA to note that they would do no further testing of the wood chips, though there is no word as to whether sale of the chips would resume. Some locals, including an unnamed city official, said they are still wary of the chips and doubts they would use them. Landscaping business owner Allen Olsen told the AP that he wouldn’t use them either, citing his mistrust of the EPA, which has been overseeing the clean-up of Libby for more than a decade. So far, they’ve spent $370 million on what has become known as the worst Superfund site in the history of the U.S.

The wood chips in question have been suspect for years, though it took until now for the EPA to test the material. In fact, the Associated Press reported last July that more than 15,000 tons of the chips had been shipped nationwide, despite the fact that there was evidence of asbestos contamination.

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