Workers at the Ash Grove Cement Company in Helena, Montana, were sent home on Monday, March 16, 2009, after tremolite was found in the quarry where they were working. Samples of the tremolite were taken immediately for testing to determine if the tremolite was a form of asbestos.
Tremolite is a naturally occurring type of asbestos often found in mines in the northern Great Plains of the United States and in other nations. If it is broken off into fibers of dust, the mineral can be inhaled into the lungs. After sitting in the body, the asbestos can emerge decades later as a deadly form of lung cancer or mesothelioma.
The tremolite type of asbestos is closely associated with another form of asbestos, vermiculite, found in Libby, Montana. The town of Libby, Montana, has been plagued since the late 1980s with hundreds of cases of asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. The owners of the mine in Libby, W.R. Grace, were the subject of scores of lawsuits and a criminal trial due to their negligence in warning the public of the dangers of the asbestos from their mine.
The test results from the quarry had yet to be returned by the end of the week when they were taken, but additional samples were collected from other parts of the quarry and the plant itself. The future of the workers and the plant would be determined by plant management after the results of those tests were returned.
Owners of the plant ensured that the workers would be paid for the time they were kept away from the plant due to the testing, but no word was given about the fate of the Ash Grove Cement Company if the tremolite found did turn out to be asbestos. Union leaders noted that the workers were ready to get back to work. They were barred from the plant pending the results of the tests to determine if the area was safe.