Vermiculite Mine Test Results Being Analyzed by the EPA

Preliminary results from asbestos testing around the former W.R. Grace vermiculite mine revealed the need for further testing to draw appropriate conclusions about the safety of the area. The task could stretch years into the future due to the remote location of the mine and the rough terrain surrounding it. These factors make collecting samples difficult according to Bonnie Lavelle, remedial project manager for the EPA’s Superfund Region 8. Initial testing of the area took four weeks to complete and included the sediment, tree bark, surface water, mine waste, soil, and air. Lavelle said that the data collected has no significance until further analysis of the area and more information can be garnered. The Environmental Protection Agency reported that air samples showed low levels of asbestos, but one observer at the Town Hall meeting presenting the findings noted that the samples were taken during a wet month. Rain could result in skewed air sample results.

Asbestos levels varied in the many water and sediment sample sites, but asbestos was detected in 22 out of 24 total sediment samples. Tree bark was also found to harbor asbestos, but it is unclear whether cutting the trees would cause a health hazard. The test area was not undergoing logging activities at the time, and future test results will determine if a return to the region for tree cutting could be safe. The next samples will be taken in three phases from the following sediment and surface water, groundwater and air, and fish. W.R. Grace will take the samples and send them to labs contracted by the EPA for testing. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality will also work with W.R. Grace and the EPA to collect and assess the results. An EPA spokesperson predicted that testing and analysis of the results would continue for another two years.