On May 11, 2010, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and the EPA came to an agreement on the proper remedies for two of the former W.R. Grace Company vermiculite mining sites in Libby, Montana.
Vermiculite mining in Libby began in the 1920s and was continued by W.R. Grace from 1963 until 1990. It was later determined that the vermiculite ore mined in Libby was contaminated with asbestos, which can cause a number of health problems including mesothelioma. The public has been significantly involved in the decision making process over the last 4 months and the EPA’s proposed plan has been amended to meet the concerns of the citizens in Lincoln County.
The final solution involves a combination of soil removal and containment techniques to stop the soil-to-air asbestos exposure pathway. The EPA has stated that the agreed upon remedies are the best way to ensure public health while moving forward with reuse of the properties. The next step involves the EPA, the City of Libby, and the owners of the land working closely together so the design of the project will complement future uses for the property.
The recent agreement is part of a process that began in 1999 when the EPA sent an Emergency Response Team to Libby after citizens and news articles questioned the safety of the area. The purpose was to assess the public health risks and eliminate the major sources of asbestos in the community.
In 2002, the Libby Asbestos site was added to the EPA’s National Priorities and more than 3,000 properties have been inspected and sampled. As of October 2009, over 1,100 residential properties had been cleaned up and investigations continue in the neighboring town of Troy, the mine site, former vermiculite processing areas, railroads, and state highways.
Next, in 2009, U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson announced that the site was a “public health emergency”, marking the first time the EPA had made such a determination under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act. The determination recognizes the impact to public health from the asbestos contamination and highlights the need for further action and health care for affected residents.