Missoula, Montana, is about 150 miles south of Libby, which is arguably “Ground Zero” in the war on asbestos. It is where the corporate executives who headed W.R. Grace and Company will be held to account for the deaths they allegedly caused in Libby. It is a major city in which people are (or should be) acutely aware of asbestos issues.
Given this fact, it seems odd that Missoula contractors and building owners are showing either willful disregard or unwitting ignorance of state laws regarding asbestos abatement. According to John Podolinsky of the Montana State Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), between 1999 and 2003, “…Missoula was 99-percent noncompliant with one of our regulations.” Out of 100 demolitions that were undertaken during that period, the Montana DEQ received required notice one time. “It also tells me, as a regulator, that those demolitions probably also failed to be inspected for asbestos,” Podolinsky added.
The study, in which DEQ records were checked against those from around the state, indicated that compliance for Montana overall was around 78%. Don Verrue, who works at the Missoula Building Code Office, reminds people that “…there are over 3,000 materials that were made with asbestos at one time, and that’s what’s in our older homes…if there’s any way we can eliminate exposure to asbestos to prevent any related illness, that’s the way we’re going to go.” Part of the problem is that, currently, there is no ordinance requiring that a contractor provide any proof that an asbestos inspection has taken place. Verrue and the city government are in the process of correcting this, however. “It’s pretty apparent that self-regulation doesn’t always work,” said county building inspector Steve Hutchings. “It does with the guys that want to do it right, but if there’s no one there to enforce the rules and you’re just relying on people’s own good graces or good intentions, it’s not always going to work.” The new regulations would require contractors to provide documentation that the work site has been inspected and is free of asbestos prior to the start of work. These regulations should be in place for the city of Missoula by the end of the year.