Danger: Abestos Health Emergency in Libby Montana

June 18, 2009

(ChattahBox)–At first glance, the tiny hamlet of Libby, Montana with a population of less than 3,000 is a study in rural western beauty, with the picturesque Kootenai River snaking through a valley framed by the Cabinet Mountains and green conifer forests.

But appearances can be deceiving, as the entire town has been poisoned by deadly asbestos from a vermiculite mine, causing over 200 deaths and thousands of cancers and other related illnesses. The situation is so dire for residents, that the EPA took the unprecedented action of declaring the entire town a public health emergency and is setting aside millions to clean up the town, before more lives are lost.

The EPA had previously declared the town a Superfund site in 1999, conducting an ongoing massive cleanup, but didn’t declare a public health emergency until Wednesday. Lisa Jackson stepped into her new role as Obama’s pick to head the EPA under his administration, with a promise to clean up hazardous waste sites that have long been overlooed.

Libby, Montana is a “tragic public health situation that has not received the recognition it deserves from the federal government for far too long,” said Jackson.

The shocking contamination of an entire town is a story of corporate greed, political influence and a town of hard working blue-collar workers who were reluctant at first, to admit their employer was knowingly putting their health and the health of their families at risk.

The vermiculite mine has been owned and operated by the W.R. Grace & Co since 1963. Workers and their families soon became poisoned with tremolite, a deadly type of asbestos contained in the vermiculite deposit. To date, at least 274 deaths can be attributed to asbestos poisoning from the mine, with thousands of others suffering from terminal illnesses.

For years, W.R. Grace & Co quietly covered up the danger of its mine and insulation products, named Zonolite made from the vermiculite, and settled with its poisoned workers and their families in out of court settlements.

Andrea Peacock‚Äôs expose of W.R. Grace and its cover up is brilliantly told in her book, “Libby, Montana: Asbestos and the Deadly Silence of an American Corporation.”

It was cheaper for W.R. Grace & Co to settle cash payments on the few workers who sued the company, and keep the mine running, allowing town residents to die and fall ill from painful cancers. The mine was finally closed in 1990, but W.R. Grace & Co didn’t bother to clean it up.

The company hightailed it out of town, leaving its poisons behind to continue to cause the deaths and illnesses of one out of every five residents in town. The town’s residents mostly suffered in silence. And it wasn’t just the town of Libby that was at risk, W.R. Grace & Co manufactured Zonolite insulation from the contaminated vermiculite and millions of buildings are still insulated with it.

It finally took a reporter from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer to break the story of the poisoned town and its suffering residents in 1999, garnering national attention for the problem, which finally led to the EPA sweeping in and committing money and manpower to clean it up.

But efforts so far, have not been adequate, and Jackson plans to spend an additional $130 million for an extensive cleanup of individual homes and provide health services to those with asbestos-related illnesses. The nearby town of Troy, Montana, with just 1,000 residents is also included in the cleanup efforts.

The contamination in the town is far reaching and pervasive. Workers carried the asbestos dusts home to their families on their clothes, the contaminated vermiculite was use to cover school running tracks, used as mulch in resident’s gardens and as insulation in their homes.

After one of the longest criminal environmental prosecutions in U.S. history, W.R. Grace & Co. and its former executives were found not guilty of knowingly allowed residents of Libby, Montana to be exposed to asbestos from its vermiculite mine.

In 2008, a $60 million civil settlement was reached with a large number of homeowners and businesses who used contaminated insulation products made by Grace & Co.

W.R. Grace & Co has also been linked to the dangerously high asbestos levels found in the air after the tragedy of Sept. 11. The company was reported to have supplied asbestos-contaminated vermiculite as fireproofing for the World Trade Center towers.

Meanwhile, the people in Libby and Troy Montana continue to suffer and if not for the new head of the EPA, Lisa Jackson the deaths and illnesses of men, women and children would have continued indefinitely.

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2 Responses to “Danger: Abestos Health Emergency in Libby Montana”

  1. Danger: Abestos Health Emergency in Libby Montana – Chattahbox.com Adding Info on June 18th, 2009 2:47 pm

    […] Kootenai River snaking through a valley framed by the Cabinet Mountains and green conifer … Read Full Post: Danger: Abestos Health Emergency in Libby Montana – Chattahbox.com Adding Related Info:EPA: Health emergency in Libby, Mont. – United Press InternationalEPA declares […]

  2. Danger: Abestos Health Emergency in Libby Montana Adding Info on June 18th, 2009 3:00 pm

    […] appearances can be deceiving, as the entire town has … Read Full Post: Danger: Abestos Health Emergency in Libby Montana Adding Related Info:Danger: Abestos Health Emergency in Libby Montana – Chattahbox.comEPA: Health […]

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