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EPA Declares Public Health Emergency in Libby, Montana

EPA Declares Public Health Emergency in Libby, Montana

The Environmental Protection Agency declared a public health emergency in Libby, Montana on June 17, 2009. Libby and the surrounding valley are home to 12,000 people, located in the northwest of Montana, and is now contaminated with asbestos. The town will now receive more than $130 million for medical assistance and cleanup costs.

This is the first time a public health emergency has been declared by the EPA.

From nearly eighty years, vermiculite was mined nearby. Vermiculite is used in many different applications including insulation and fireproofing spray. It can also be found as a soil additive and is used as a blast mitigant. The vermiculite was used to make Zonolite brand insulation, which was used in millions of homes across the U.S. The vermiculite was also used in products across the globe.

The vermiculite mined in Libby was also naturally contaminated with amphibole asbestos. Nearly 200 people have died and another 1000 are sick as a result of asbestos-related illnesses, including mesothelioma. It is estimated that this is 40 to 80 times higher than the national average rate of death for these kinds of illnesses. Thousands more may eventually become ill.

The Center for Asbestos Related Diseases believes most of those exposed in Libby who have developed, or will develop, an asbestos-related illness will most likely develop a variation of pleural fibrosis. This is scarring of the pleural lining of the lungs. The pleural lining surrounds the lungs, which expands and contracts to aid breathing. Interstitial disease, scarring within the lungs, is rarer, but still seen in some of the victims in Libby.

Asbestos Victims

Miners are not the only victims in Libby. The town was virtually coated in tainted dust from the mine. Tailings, mining waste, was used in gardens, playgrounds, and as fill for driveways. The local high school track was also covered in asbestos contaminated material. Entire families have been exposed to asbestos. It is widely believed that the mining company, W.R. Grace, knew for decades that the town was contaminated. Three executives from the company were acquitted by a federal jury on criminal charges related to the contamination. In 2008, W.R. Grace agreed to pay $250 million to the EPA to reimburse them for cleanup costs.

According to an EPA spokeswoman, $6 million will be provided by the Department of Health and Human Services for screening, diagnosing, and treating illnesses of the people. Another $125 million will go toward cleanup of those areas designated as contaminated.

If you or a loved one has developed an illness you believe is related to contamination to asbestos, please contact experienced mesothelioma attorneys, Brown | Gould | Kiely, LLP.  We serve the state of Maryland and the area of Washington, D.C.