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Asbestos.

EPA Announces Final Plans
for Libby, Montana

Friday, February 26, 2016

Home to a vermiculite mine that at one time produced 80 percent of the substance in the world, Libby, Montana was heavily contaminated by asbestos. Nearly 10 percent of its population has died of mesothelioma, asbestosis and other asbestos-related diseases. W. R. Grace, the owner of the mine, was charged by the government with complicity and negligence; a clean-up operation began in 2002, spearheaded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The Libby, Montana, Superfund has cost well over $500 million in cleanup costs, investigation and scientific studies since it first began in 2002. Now the EPA has announced its final remediation plans covering the next two to three years.

According to the record of decision announced by the EPA, the cleanup work in Libby will continue, with focus on several hundred homes and properties that still have not been decontaminated. The soil that is contaminated with asbestos will continue to be replaced with clean soil, and the EPA will continue disposing of building materials and other contaminated objects that are accessible. There also will be a plan put into place to “make sure the remedy remains protective.”

One of the remaining questions for those who are living in the area is what will happen when any asbestos is encountered following the conclusion of the EPA’s work. W. R. Grace was required to establish a fund of $11 million specifically for unforeseen site conditions, and that money cannot be touched before 2017.

The type of exposure administrators are concerned about includes excavations that reveal previously unknown asbestos or building collapses that expose asbestos that had been sealed off. There are also about 700 properties whose owners rejected or deferred the government agency’s cleanup action, and this presents a real problem. According to LeRoy Thom, a member of the Libby Technical Assistance Group, “It’s a real Catch 22. The EPA has tried to tell people to get the cleanup done, but if they don’t and that land or building becomes available for sale, then someone else has to incur that cost. In the very beginning there was an understanding the EPA would do the cleanup, whatever needed to be done. Governor Martz made the EPA promise to do a complete cleanup-now they’re leaving several hundred properties not cleaned.”

By Terri Oppenheimer

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