HELENA, MT–At Ash Grove Cement Company near Helena, Montana, workers are being paid not to work.
The presence of asbestos has been identified in one section of the company’s limestone quarry, three miles from the Montana City cement plant itself and is being investigated. That section involves about 10 acres, company spokeswoman Jacqueline Clark said. The quarrying has involved digging or other disturbances on 100 acres or more.
Tremolite asbestos, similar to the asbestos found in the W.R. Grace vermiculite mine outside Libby, Montana, was found in the quarry last month.
The effects of asbestos exposure on the people of Libby has been catastrophic, with over 240,000 legal cases filed against W.R. Grace. Approximately 40 percent of the population has been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was widely used before the 1970s. Its cost efficiency and resistancy to heat, chemicals, and electricity made it very popular in infrastructures.
Workers at the Ash Grove quarry fear that if tests confirm that the dangerous mineral is present, their jobs will be lost. It is not clear how long the company will continue to pay workers while the plant is shut down. Currently, the facility would already be closed due to the annual maintenance that occurs, but operations would normally resume on April 1st.
Clark said samples of quarry material were being collected for examination by independent analysts. Once samples are gathered, analysis could take five to 10 business days but it is difficult to pinpoint when results will be known, Clark said. Wintry weather Monday in the Helena area may have impeded the sampling, she added.
The plant manager believes the plant is safe because he has not seen any asbestos-related diseases among workers in the twenty years he has worked at the plant. The company’s Montana City operation employs 80 people, nine of them at the quarry, Clark said.
Asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma, may not manifest and develop until decades after the exposure, so that observation does not necessarily rule out the presence of asbestos.