Exposure to and prohibition of asbestos
Our fact-checking process begins with a thorough review of all sources to ensure they are of high quality. We then verify the facts with original medical or scientific reports published by those sources, or we verify the facts with reputable news organizations, medical and scientific and other health experts. Each page includes all sources for complete transparency.
Decontamination efforts in Libby, Montana — the largest asbestos cleanup project in American history — moved another step closer to completion this month, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The Montana Department of Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have determined that restoration efforts have been completed at another major part of the original Libby Asbestos Superfund site. The designation of the super fund is defined as a federal public health emergency.
The contamination at the site originated from the WR Grace & Co. mine. For vermiculite, which was the lifeblood of the area, and which spread asbestos dust throughout the area for 50 years. It was placed on the EPA’s National Priority List in 2002 due to the high levels of amphibole asbestos prevalent throughout the communities of Libby and Troy, Montana.
The mine closed in 1990 after nearly 70 years of operation. It became known as the longest man-made environmental disaster in US history.
The death rate for asbestos is the highest in the United States
The Libby Center for Asbestos-Related Diseases currently treats and monitors approximately 2,500 people, whether current or former residents, with health issues such as pollution-related mesothelioma.
Health officials have documented more than 400 deaths and thousands of health cases attributed to asbestos exposure in the area, making Lincoln County, Montana, home to the highest rate of asbestos-related deaths in the country.
This last part to be completed in the sprawling clean-up effort is officially known as Operable Unit 8, which includes all major roads and highways in and between Troy and Libby. No other remedial action is considered necessary to protect human health and the environment in Unit 8, according to the EPA.
“This is the third operable unit deletion at the Libby Asbestos Superfund site in three years, and it is a milestone that demonstrates the progress that the EPA and our partners have made in cleanup and property restoration in Libby,” Betsy Smedinger, EPA 8’s Superfund District Manager and Division of Emergency Management, said in the announcement.
Although most of the asbestos in the area is now either gone or otherwise out of reach, its legacy will live on for years. It often takes more than 20 years for many asbestos-related diseases, including fibrosis, to appear after initial exposure. Mesothelioma and lung cancer can take up to 50 years before obvious symptoms appear.
The Environmental Protection Agency continues to monitor the site
The final restoration of the remaining units – except for the actual mine site – is expected to be announced soon. The clean-up part of the operation has been completed in seven of the eight units, but some are awaiting evaluation before they are removed from the list of national priorities. The EPA will also continue to monitor contamination concerns in the remaining operable units until they are removed.
In 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency formally transferred responsibility and oversight for much of the project to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality but remained involved. The unit that has just been completed will continue to be part of the periodic audits and maintenance activities.
The ongoing cleanup project has cost federal taxpayers more than $600 million, according to various estimates. It includes removing more than 1 million cubic yards of dirt and building materials. Cleaning and inspection of all residential and commercial properties has been completed.
Free Mesothelioma Resources
Get access to free resources for patients and loved ones