Mesothelioma in Libby, Montana

Expert Fact Checked

This page was legally reviewed by Jennifer Lucarelli. For information on our content creation and review process read our editorial guidelines. If you notice an error or have comments or questions on our content please contact us.

Jennifer Lucarelli Legal Advisor and Contributor

Asbestos-contaminated vermiculite from mines in Libby, Montana, has killed hundreds and caused asbestos-related illnesses in thousands more. Over $68 million has already been provided in Libby mesothelioma settlements and lawsuit verdicts. Legal and medical resources are available.

01. Asbestos Contamination Timeline in Libby

When Did Asbestos Contamination in Libby, Montana Occur?

Asbestos contamination occurred in the Libby, Montana, vermiculite mine from the 1920s to 1990.

In the 1920s, the Zonolite Company formed and began mining vermiculite in Libby, Montana. Zonolite continued mining until W.R. Grace purchased the company in 1963. W.R. Grace maintained the operations until the Libby mine closed in 1990.

Vermiculite is a mineral that occurs naturally near asbestos. Mineral deposits (such as vermiculite and talc) can easily become contaminated with asbestos because of their proximity.

Although the contaminated mine was in use primarily throughout the twentieth century, exposure is still a concern. Vermiculite was mined for use in building insulation, potting soil and fertilizer. While the mine isn’t in use today, products contaminated with asbestos from the Libby mine are still in use. For example, many older homes across the United States contain Zonolite’s vermiculite insulation. Disturbing such products can cause asbestos exposure, which can lead to illnesses such as mesothelioma cancer.

“While in operation, the Libby mine may have produced 80 percent of the world’s supply of vermiculite.”

02. Type of Asbestos in Libby

What Type of Asbestos Contaminated the Libby Mine?

Vermiculite in the Libby mines was contaminated with amphibole asbestos. Specifically, the contamination was tremolite-actinolite asbestos. This type of fiber is often called Libby Amphibole asbestos (LA).

Amphibole asbestos contaminated up to 26% of the Libby vermiculite ore.

Amphibole asbestos is highly friable. In other words, it easily crumbles, chips and breaks apart. This can lead to fibers becoming airborne, putting individuals at risk of exposure. Some studies suggest exposure to amphibole asbestos is more likely to cause mesothelioma than exposure to chrysotile asbestos.

Where Was Libby Amphibole Asbestos Found?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found LA in*:

  • Animal tissue
  • Fish tissue
  • Indoor ambient air
  • Indoor dust
  • Outdoor ambient air
  • Soil
  • Vermiculite bulk materials
  • Vermiculite insulation
  • Water
  • Various other media

*The EPA collected these findings during their investigation in Libby, Montana.

Local news outlets reported concerns about asbestos in the Kootenai River and its tributary, Rainy Creek. The EPA found low levels of asbestos in the Kootenai River during testing. However, reporters noted asbestos in Rainy Creek was a larger concern. Asbestos readings for Rainy Creek were reportedly well above standard drinking water regulations.

These waterways were not sources for Libby’s drinking water. However, some of the earliest cases of asbestos diseases in the community were diagnosed among those who fished in these waters.

Who Was Responsible for the Libby Asbestos Contamination?

Asbestos contamination of the vermiculite mine was a natural occurrence. The proximity of the natural deposits of vermiculite and asbestos led to easy contamination.

However, reports indicate W.R. Grace was aware of the presence of asbestos and its health risks after it took over mining operations in 1963. The company measured dangerous levels of asbestos in the vermiculite in 1975. Despite this knowledge, the company allowed mining to continue. It also did not warn employees. The mine did not close until 1990.

When Did the Public Become Aware of W.R. Grace’s Involvement?

Knowledge of the Libby asbestos disaster spread through media outlets in the late 1990s. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer published “Uncivil Action: A Town Left to Die,” a series about Libby. As knowledge spread about the mine’s dangers, so did knowledge of W.R. Grace’s involvement.

“The W.R. Grace Co., which owned the mine for three decades, was well aware of the deadly asbestos being inhaled by the miners and their families, but for years did not tell its workers of the hazards.”

–From “Uncivil Action: A Town Left to Die” by Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Because of the company’s actions, hundreds of employees and other Libby residents faced wrongful exposure. Many employees and their families reported asbestos-related deaths and diagnoses.

As a result, W.R. Grace has faced thousands of asbestos claims and lawsuits. W.R. Grace has also established an asbestos trust fund to pay out current and future claims.

Montana Jobsites Where Asbestos Exposure Occurred

  • Airbase Powerhouse
  • Alta Montana Company
  • Amalgamated Sugar Company
  • Amalgamated Sugar Company
  • American Crystal Sugar Company
  • American Smelting & Refining
  • Anaconda Aluminum Company
  • Anaconda Aluminum Company
  • Anaconda Copper Ming Company
  • Anaconda Copper Mining Company
  • Anaconda Copper Mining Company
  • Anaconda Copper Mining Company
  • Anaconda Forest Products
  • Anaconda Smelter
  • Armstrong Contracting & Supply Corporation (ACandS, Inc.)
  • Armstrong Contracting & Supply Corporation (ACandS, Inc.)
  • Armstrong Contracting & Supply Corporation (ACandS, Inc.)
  • Asarco Inc
  • Big Sky Linen & Uniform
  • Billings Laundry Company
  • Billings Mutual Heating Company
  • Billings Sugar Company
  • Billings Utility Company
  • Boston and Montana Con. Copper and Silver Ming Company
  • Boston and Montana Consolidated
  • Boston and Montana Reduction Department
  • Bozeman Montana College
  • Brick & Builders Supply
  • Brick & Builders Supply
  • Broeder Lumber Company
  • Butte General Electric Company
  • Butte Lighting and Power Company
  • C and C Plywood Corp
  • Cascades Plywood Company
  • Cenex Harvest States
  • Cenex Refinery
  • Chicago, Milwaukee, St Paul & Pacific Railroad
  • Clausen Refrigeration Co.
  • Colstrip Power Plant
  • Conrey Peacer Mining Company
  • Consolidated Copper and Silver Mining Company
  • Continental Oil Company
  • Copper and Silver Mining Company
  • Copper and Silver Mining Company
  • Corette Plant Power Station
  • Cyprus Industrial Minerals Company
  • Diehl Lumber Company
  • Dupois Lumber Company
  • E.J. Bartells Company
  • East Butte Copper Mining Company
  • Evans Products Company
  • Exxon Mobil Corporation
  • Farmer’s Union Co-Op Oil
  • Farmers Union Central Exchange
  • Fiberglas Engineering & Supply Company
  • Forsyth Elect Light Power Company
  • Forzley Sales Company
  • Fuce Plant
  • Geismar Industries Inc
  • General Mills
  • Glacier Production Corp
  • Glasgow Air Force Base
  • Glendive Ht. Light and Power Company
  • Granite Bi Metalic Cons Mg. Company
  • Great Western Sugar Company
  • Great Western Sugar Company
  • Heartland Grain Fuels
  • Helena Power Transmission Company
  • Helena Transmission Company
  • Hoerner Waldorf Corporation
  • Holly Sugar Corporation
  • Humble Oil & Refining Company
  • Intermountain Lumber Company
  • J. Neils Lumber Company
  • J. Neils Lumber Company
  • J.E. Corette Plant
  • Kaiser Cement & Gypsum
  • Kelly Heating Plant
  • Laurel Oil and Refining Company
  • Legal Tender Mining Company
  • Lewis & Clark Power Plant
  • Libby Mines
  • Midland Sugar Company
  • Missoula Electric Cooperative
  • Missoula Light and Water Company
  • Missoula White Pine Sash
  • Montana Coal and Iron Company
  • Montana Ore Purchasing Company
  • Montana Power & Light Company
  • Montana Power Company
  • Montana Power Company
  • Montana Power Company
  • Montana Refining
  • Montana State Hospital
  • Montana State University
  • Montana-Dakota Utilities
  • Montana-Dakota Utilities Company
  • Moulton Gold and Silver Mining Company
  • Moulton Mining Company
  • National Mining and Exploring Company
  • No Butte Mining Company
  • Northern Pacific Railroad Company
  • Northern Pacific Railway Company
  • Northern Pacific Railway Company
  • Northwestern Improvement Company
  • Northwestern Improvement Company
  • Original Butte Mining Company
  • Pack River Lumber Company
  • Phillips 66 Billings Refinery
  • Phillips Petroleum Company
  • Phoenix Electric Plant
  • Pittsburg and Montana Copper Company
  • Plum Creek Lumber Company
  • Rocky Mountain Bell Telephone Company
  • Saltenberger Plumbing & Heating
  • Sidney Montana Powerhouse
  • Sierra Talc and Clay Company Inc
  • Smurfit-Stone Container Corp.
  • St. Regis Paper Company
  • St. Vincent’s Healthcare
  • State College of Agricultural and Mechanical Arts.
  • Stauffer Chemical
  • Stauffer Chemical Company
  • Stone Container Corporation
  • Sulphuric Acid Plant
  • Texaco, Inc.
  • The Anaconda Company
  • Timber Butte Milling Company
  • Union Oil Company
  • Union Oil Company
  • Union Tank Car Company
  • United Sierra Div Cyprus Mines Corp
  • United States Army Air Base
  • United States Gypsum Company
  • University of Montana
  • US Air Force
  • Utah Idaho Sugar Company
  • Van Evan Company
  • Victor Chemical Company
  • Waldorf-Hoerner Paper Products Company
  • Warm Springs State Hospital
  • Water and Electric Light Company
  • Western Ranch Supply Company
  • Wyo-Ben, Inc.
  • Yale Oil Corporation
03. Exposure & Health Risks in Libby

Why Were the Vermiculite Mines a Problem for People in Libby, Montana?

The vermiculite mines produced large amounts of dust that contained asbestos. The dust affected not only those working in the mines but also those living and working in the vicinity.

Who Was Exposed to Libby Asbestos?

Anyone that came into contact with the contaminated vermiculite risked asbestos exposure. Even those not working directly with the vermiculite faced health risks. Asbestos dust spread from the mines to neighboring buildings, homes and schools.

Groups who risk asbestos illnesses from Libby asbestos include:

  • Community members living and working near the mine
  • Consumers using Libby vermiculite products
  • Miners working directly with the contaminated mineral
  • School children in parks and sports fields near the mines

While Libby residents faced exposure from the mine, Libby asbestos caused widespread concerns. Asbestos from the mine was incorporated into a variety of products. Consumers across the United States risk exposure if they come into contact with the contaminated materials.

Health Impacts From Libby, Montana Asbestos Exposure

Many workers and residents were diagnosed with diseases because of Libby’s asbestos. Hundreds have died. Incidence and mortality rates continue to rise from the long-lasting impact of asbestos exposure from the mine.

Exposure to asbestos-contaminated vermiculite could lead to:

Most health effects stemming from the Libby asbestos sites have been respiratory diseases. This is from individuals breathing in asbestos dust and debris from the mine. If you were exposed to asbestos in Montana at a commercial, residential or military site and have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you should seek treatment at specialized cancer centers. Doctors at these facilities offer patients a personalized medical plan using cutting-edge treatment options. Patients may also be eligible to participate in clinical trials.

The Impact of Asbestos-Related Diseases on Libby, Montana Residents

Elevated asbestos-related deaths have occurred for both men and women in Libby. Men have accounted for a slightly larger number of asbestos-related diagnoses and deaths. Researchers note men were more likely to work as miners.

Mining is a high-risk asbestos occupation. Workers are at risk of exposure when mining asbestos or minerals in close proximity to asbestos. Although asbestos mining is banned today, mining of other minerals near asbestos deposits continues. By disturbing asbestos fibers, miners risk exposure and the development of related illnesses.

Many women were exposed via secondary exposure. This occurred when mine workers brought home asbestos fibers on their clothing. Secondary exposure can lead to mesothelioma in women and other loved ones.

Libby asbestos has affected entire families. Gayla Benefield, a lifelong resident of Libby, is a patient advocate and activist suffering from lung disease. Her husband and parents died from asbestos diseases. Four of her five children have also been diagnosed with asbestos diseases. Benefield shared her story in a documentary, Libby, Montana.

Continued Asbestos-Related Deaths in Libby, Montana

Researchers reported asbestos exposure from the Libby mine led to around 400 deaths in the 1990s. Related deaths have continued through the 2000s and are still happening today.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry collected Libby mortality data from 1979 to 1998. It retrieved causes of death from death certificates.

During this time period, workers from the vermiculite mine in Libby accounted for:

  • 92% of asbestosis deaths
  • 67% of mesothelioma deaths
  • 17% of lung cancer deaths

Follow-up reports show incidence and mortality rates continue to rise. Researchers also feel the data is an underestimation of asbestos diseases related to Libby.

Libby residents can take steps to address the risks posed from asbestos exposure. Residents can benefit from regular cancer screenings that test for symptoms of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. Treatment is more effective when a person receives an early mesothelioma diagnosis.

04. Mesothelioma Treatment in Libby

Libby, Montana Mesothelioma Treatment

Patients who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma should seek care from a cancer center with mesothelioma treatment experience. For example, patients in Libby can find treatment options at Billings Clinic Cancer Center, in Billings, Montana. Doctors at this facility provide expertise in treating mesothelioma.

Patients also have the option to seek treatment out of the state. For instance, the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, Washington, also treats patients with mesothelioma. This cancer center has specialists experienced in treating patients with surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and other treatments.

Billings Clinic Cancer Center

Billings Clinic Cancer Center

Billings, MT 59101

Libby, Montana Mesothelioma Doctors

Because mesothelioma is rare, it is important that Libby patients seek care from a mesothelioma doctor. These specialists create a personalized plan for each patient and optimize treatment options to help extend their patient’s life expectancy with mesothelioma.

Photo of John M. Schallenkamp, M.D.

John M. Schallenkamp, M.D.

Radiation Oncologist and Medical Director of Oncology
Billings, MT

Over the last several decades, asbestos cleanup efforts in Libby have made the area safer for residents. However, mesothelioma has a long latency period. Libby residents experiencing symptoms of mesothelioma should consult a doctor, even if their asbestos exposure occurred many years ago.

05. EPA Cleanup Efforts in Libby

Libby, Montana Asbestos Cleanup Efforts

Concerns about asbestos exposure in Libby, Montana, began to peak in the late 1990s. Citizens, local government and media brought concerns to the EPA. The EPA began to respond in 1999.

The agency set up a local information center to help handle asbestos concerns. The news of those affected by Libby’s asbestos contamination continued to spread as the EPA became involved.

By 2000, an asbestos Superfund investigation began. Through this investigation, the EPA sought to determine the source(s) of asbestos. It also established a plan for cleanup and decontamination. Libby was then placed on the EPA’s Superfund list in 2002. Libby was also placed on the National Priorities List (NPL). This list prioritizes EPA cleanup projects based on risk.

What Is a Superfund Site?

A Superfund site is an area contaminated by hazardous substances. The Superfund program allows the EPA to identify and clean up polluted areas. This falls under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (better known as CERCLA).

Libby is one of the largest environmental disasters in United States history. In 2009, the EPA declared a Public Health Emergency in Libby – the first of its kind in the agency’s history. The primary purpose of this declaration was to provide asbestos victims with federal healthcare assistance. It also emphasized the serious health risks associated with exposure from the mine.

W.R. Grace had to contribute $250 million toward past and future cleanup efforts. By 2018, the EPA had spent more than $600 million on the project.

Where Did Asbestos Need to Be Removed in Libby, Montana?

The EPA investigated more than 8,100 properties within the Libby Superfund site. The asbestos cleanup covered more than 2,600 of these properties. The EPA completed cleanups at all:

  • Commercial areas
  • Former vermiculite processing plants
  • Other contaminated public areas
  • Parks
  • Residential areas
  • Schools

The EPA removed more than one million cubic yards of contaminated soil. The soil was deposited in the closed vermiculite mine. The agency also removed more than one million cubic yards of asbestos-contaminated waste from source areas and structures. The waste was disposed of in a designated landfill cell. The old mine and forested areas in Libby remain contaminated.

06. Is Libby Safe Today?

Is Libby, Montana Safe Today?

The EPA asserts that Libby, Montana, is now safe. The agency completed its investigation and cleanup of Libby in 2018.

According to the EPA, “The amount of LA in air in downtown Libby is now nearly 100,000 times lower than when the vermiculite mine and mill were operating.”

Over the past few years, the EPA has removed portions of Libby from the NPL. This demonstrates their progress toward diminishing associated health risks.

Is There Still Asbestos in Libby, Montana?

Even though the EPA completed its investigation and cleanup of Libby, some areas still have asbestos concerns. The agency has not yet addressed asbestos cleanup of the vermiculite mine site and forested areas.

Libby is still known for the asbestos tragedy today. Residents of Libby continue to share their stories and the impact asbestos had on their families.

The EPA plans to establish a cleanup plan for the forests. It has acknowledged the risk of LA exposure to emergency personnel in the event of a wildfire. The agency has offered support to the U.S. Forest Service and local and state partners in Libby, Montana, to assist with fire preparedness.

On July 1, 2020, the EPA transferred the majority of project oversight to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The EPA continues to oversee the actual mine site.

Why Are People Still Dying in Libby, Montana?

Asbestos continues to have a long-lasting impact on Libby. Residents continue to die and face asbestos-related diagnoses.

Some victims are only now receiving a diagnosis from exposure years ago. This is because signs of mesothelioma often take years to emerge. The disease has a long latency period, and symptoms can take 10 – 50 years to present.

07. Lawsuits & Settlements in Libby

Libby, Montana Asbestos Lawsuits and Settlements

W.R. Grace continues to face asbestos claims after exposing victims to asbestos in Libby. Workers, their loved ones and community members have suffered from asbestos-related diseases and died as a result of the company’s actions.

W.R. Grace has paid millions of dollars to settle asbestos claims. Notable asbestos litigation related to W.R. Grace includes:

  • 2011: A judge awarded a $43 million settlement to more than 1,300 claimants.
  • 2017: A judge awarded a $25 million settlement to more than 1,000 claimants.
  • 2018: Montana’s Supreme Court appointed six new judges to handle thousands of pending Libby claims.

By filing an asbestos lawsuit, victims may be able to receive financial compensation. This can help with treatment costs, lost income and other related hardships.

To handle the immense number of asbestos claims, W.R. Grace established a trust fund. The asbestos trust fund helps ensure that current and future claimants receive financial help. To determine trust fund eligibility, individuals should seek counsel from an asbestos attorney.

Finding a Lawyer or Law Firm in Libby, Montana

Mesothelioma victims in Libby can pursue compensation for an asbestos-related injury. A law firm experienced in asbestos litigation can explain different legal options individuals can pursue for Montana asbestos compensation.

Attorneys can help patients determine which type of compensation they may receive based on their exposure and work history. They can also help decide which state is the best to file a lawsuit in.

Recovering billions of dollars for mesothelioma victims for over 40 years as recognized by Martindale-Hubbell, Best Lawyers®, Super Lawyers® and U.S. News & World Report.

Over 16 years of experience serving asbestos injury victims. The Gori Law Firm is recognized by Super Lawyers®, National Trial Lawyers and the American Society of Legal Advocates (ASLA).

Experienced mesothelioma and asbestos lawyers serving victims nationwide. Recognized by Best Lawyers®, Super Lawyers® and U.S. News & World Report.

Deadlines for Filing Mesothelioma Lawsuits in Libby, Montana

Mesothelioma lawsuits must be filed within a period of time specified by laws called statutes of limitations. The deadlines in these laws vary by state and type of lawsuit. Mesothelioma patients and their families can contact a lawyer to learn more about the filing process.

Statutes of Limitations for Libby

Personal Injury

Claims must be filed within 3 years after an asbestos-related diagnosis.

Wrongful Death

Claims must be filed within 3 years after an asbestos-related death.

Mesothelioma lawsuits may result in compensation from asbestos settlements or verdicts. This compensation can help pay for costs related to a mesothelioma diagnosis and provide financial security.

Examples of clients served near Libby include:

Client Profile

Age: 67

Occupation: Laborer

Jobsites Worked at: Eagle Electric & Plumbing (1968 – 1972); Tower Electric Inc. (1970 – 1971); Wagstaff Machine Works (1966 – 1967)

Settlement: ~$4,395,000

Client Profile

Age: 70

Occupations: Pipefitter, Plumber

Jobsites Worked at: Gale Mechanical (1976 – 1977)

Settlement: ~$2,222,180

Client Profile

Age: 73

Occupations: Office worker, Home renovations

Jobsites Worked at: Neil Ringrose, DDS (1972 – 1979)

Settlement: ~$1,375,250

Client Profile

Age: 71

Occupations: Construction, Mechanic

Jobsites Worked at: Jim Palmer Trucking (1985)

Settlement: ~$816,379

Find Mesothelioma Doctors, Lawyers and Asbestos Exposure Sites Near You

Find Mesothelioma Doctors, Lawyers and Asbestos Exposure Sites Near You