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The mining town of Libby, Montana has become synonymous with the catastrophic consequences of asbestos exposure. The town is a hot spot unlike any other for asbestos exposure due to the W. R. Grace and Co. vermiculite mine that permeated the town with high levels of the carcinogenic dust. Since the mine was closed in 1990, government officials have been trying to address the monumental public health crisis. The town was declared a public health emergency in 2009, hundreds have died as a result of asbestos exposure and more deaths are expected to continue for decades to come. The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has been scrambling to contain any further damage while trying to produce a safety report detailing the level of cleanup needed to return Libby to a healthy living environment. Now, internal investigators from the Inspector General’s Office are criticizing the EPA for delaying the study and furthering possible harm.
This month, internal investigators blamed the EPA for significant delays in completing health studies needed to complete the cleanup efforts in Libby. The town still remains classified as a public health emergency even though $447 million has already been spent in asbestos cleanup, the town still remains classified as a public health emergency. The EPA initially stated that public health reports would be completed by 2010, but now are not expected to be finished until 2014.
The EPA claims that the delay is due to the highly complicated nature of the safety study. The EPA Acting Regional Administrator Howard Cantor says that the examination must be done thoroughly in order to properly protect the residents of Libby from any further harm. Although the mine is now closed off, a preliminary report shows that even an extremely minute amount of asbestos fibers can lead to asbestos disease.
But the internal investigators aren’t satisfied with the EPA’s reasons for the delay. They have accused the agency of having poor communication with the people of Libby, members of Congress and the Inspector General’s office. According to the investigation, this poor communication, along with a lack of transparency within the EPA, has led to significant delays.
Currently, the EPA’s cleanup endeavors have reached 1,700 homes and commercial properties and has led to the removal of over 1.2 million tons of soil contaminated by asbestos. Montana Senator Max Baucus called for the EPA to learn from their previous mistakes and speed up the asbestos cleanup process. The Montana Senator also spoke with the incoming head of the EPA, Gina McCarthy, asking her to make Libby a priority so that no more damage is done.
The EPA still has several hundred properties slated for asbestos removal and there will be possibly more added after the safety report is complete. Although the mine has been closed since 1990, cleanup has a long way to go.
The mesothelioma law firm of Baron and Budd has been following the status of Libby, Montana since it was first discovered to be a hot bed for asbestos disease. For over 35 years, the law firm has defended the rights of asbestos patients against the asbestos industry and knows just how damaging the carcinogenic dust can be. Asbestos disease is preventable and should be of the utmost priority of the EPA. Baron and Budd will continue to report on the safety status of the mining town and hopes that the people of Libby will soon have a safe place to call home someday.
For more information on Baron and Budd, visit our firm’s website.