Vermiculite Asbestos Exposure Reaches Far Beyond Libby, Montana

In a report from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), many people living and working near 28 exfoliation sites have been exposed to amphibole asbestos from vermiculite mined in Libby, Montana. Another 78 sites also received Libby vermiculite asbestos. All of these sites are now under close scrutiny for potential dangers. Even though the actual vermiculite has not been tied to disease, this mineral as mined from Libby, Montana, was contaminated with amphibole asbestos. Amphibole has been linked to many deadly diseases of the lungs such as lung cancer , mesothelioma , and a permanent scarring of the lungs known as asbestosis . These diseases do not begin to show symptoms until many decades after exposure. So, those exposed to the Libby-mined vermiculite from the 1920s through the 1990s are still at risk for developing one of these ailments. Groups most at risk for these diseases from asbestos exposure include those who worked at the exfoliation sites, their families, and community members who frequented the area of the exfoliation site. These groups are encouraged to be aware of symptoms of lung problems and to stop smoking, which could hasten the development of a serious disease.

The former exfoliation sites will continue to be monitored by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Due to their active changing of the vermiculite through the exfoliation process, which heated the mineral in order to expand it, this process resulted in much of the asbestos becoming airborne, where it was inhaled by the employees. Some of this asbestos also settled on the employees’ clothing, which put family members at risk for being exposed to it as well. Asbestos fibers escaping the exfoliation sites also put the community at risk. Non-exfoliation sites will not likely have to undergo such testing, since they did not require the extensive altering of the vermiculite. The purpose of the report is to increase the public awareness of their potential for developing lung damage and diseases caused by asbestos exposure. Those living and working around the exfoliation sites need to discuss the possibility of being tested for asbestos-caused diseases with their physicians.