You’d think that a town that was devastated by asbestos had suffered enough. But news reports of EPA knowledge of, and unresponsiveness to, reports of asbestos contamination on widely distributed wood chips has put Libby back in the news, and in harm’s way, once again.

Asbestos from a W.R. Grace mine in Libby has caused the death of over 400 people with more to come, as the latency period for the deadly microscopic fibers to wreak havoc with the lungs can be more than 30 years. Over $370 million has been spent on clean up, but when a town has literally been built with asbestos (it was used in road paving etc.), a good cleaning only goes so far.

Libby’s asbestos disaster is certainly well known and the U.S. government has spent millions dealing with the mess.  So why in the world did the EPA allow three years to pass before doing something about the practice of selling asbestos – tainted wood chips (sourced from a Superfund site in Libby) for use in landscaping? We doubt that the gardens of America were that desperate for mulching.

The sad truth is that tons of potentially contaminated bark and wood chips have already been sold, used in, and trucked out of Libby over the last decade. What’s more, it is now clear that federal regulators knew this for more than three years before they halted the practice, according to a letter from the Environmental Protection Agency to U.S. Sen. Max Baucus.

There is no way to excuse this type of negligence and unfortunately, no way to “take back” the harm that may have already been done. In addition to the wood chips used and sold locally for landscaping,  an estimated 15,000 tons were shipped out of Libby for use as fuel.

Now here’s the scary part: no one knows where that 15,000 tons went.