The town of Libby, Montana would be considered a traditional old-west outpost reminiscent of the 19th century towns portrayed in western movies. Located about 50 miles from the Canadian border, the town is known for its extensive mining operations.
However, the town has the dubious distinction of being the first entire municipality subjected to a public health emergency due to the spread of asbestos. The declaration stems from concerns about asbestos dust coming from the vermiculite mine operated by W.R. Grace. (Vermiculite was used to insulate millions of homes across the United States.)
According to numerous reports, hundreds of people over the years have died due to asbestos exposure. Deaths are expected to continue due to the amount of time asbestos related cancers take to develop in the body.
While it was issued in 2009, some believe that the health emergency status should have been issued earlier. A recent report by internal investigators indicated that the Environmental Protection Agency unduly delayed the health studies needed to initiate town’s cleanup.
The Agency’s regional administrator disagrees with the assessment, and insists that any delays have not affected what his group has been able to accomplish in keeping the town’s residents safe. He notes that 1,700 homes and commercial properties have been cleaned and 1.2 million tons of contaminated soil have been removed.
While several hundred properties are slated to be cleaned, more than $400 million has already been spent on asbestos abatement. In the meantime, it remains to be seen whether the alleged delays will lead to future legal action.
Source: 10TV.com, EPA blamed for delaying asbestos study in Montana, April 18, 2013