EPA Announces $6 Million Grant for Asbestos Cancer Victims

Washington, DC – In an historic move, the Environmental Protection Agency has announced that the federal government will provide funding for medical care to residents of northwestern Montana who have become sick after being exposed to asbestos.
Calling the situation a ”public health emergency,” the EPA pledged $6 million to people from the towns of Libby and Troy, where a vermiculite mine operated for decades by chemicals giant W.R. Grace made hundreds of people gravely ill. To date, over 200 people in the area have died from asbestos-related diseases such as lung cancer and mesothelioma, an asbestos cancer which affects the protective membrane encasing the lungs and other organs. Asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral which is lightweight, durable, and extremely heat- and fire-resistant, is sometimes found in vermiculite, which itself is used for insulation purposes. The miners experienced occupational exposure to the asbestos’s microscopic fibers, but they also brought the toxic dust home on their clothes, unwittingly exposing their families to the carcinogen. Furthermore, Grace donated large quantities of the vermiculite material to the town of Libby for recreational use it formed the high school track and play areas at the town Little League field  and offered it to residents for use as garden mulch. Recently, the chemicals company and several of its former employees were acquitted in a highly-publicized federal trial. They had been accused of deliberately exposing the miners and townspeople to this health hazard. W.R. Grace operated the Libby mine from 1963 until 1990, when it closed. Now, the government will grant $6 million to the Lincoln County, Montana health authority, to help defray the medical expenses of those victims who are uninsured or underinsured. A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services said that there are approximately 500 people in the area with asbestos-related diseases, and that some 50 new cases are diagnosed every year. The Department of Health and Human Services had spent almost $50 million in the past 10 years, in order to provide diagnostic screening programs and improve health care for those who have been sickened by the asbestos. The recently announced $6 million grant, however, would go directly to patients for their medical expenses. The EPA has had the power to declare a public health emergency since 1980, but has never before done so. “For way too long, many here in Washington have turned a blind eye to the needs of the residents in Libby,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “Those days are over.”