Libby, a northwest Montana town where asbestos contamination has killed more than 200 people, will get more than $130 million in cleanup and medical assistance from the Obama Administration, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. This is the first declaration issued by the agency, which has grappled with the “toxic legacy” of a mine outside Libby, Montana, since 1999. As we and many others have repeatedly reported, the town was heavily contaminated with asbestos-laced dust. Federal prosecutors have said it resulted in more than 200 deaths and 1,000 illnesses. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, in making the announcement, stated:
For decades, the disease and death rate from asbestosis in the Libby area was staggeringly high — much higher than the national average. Not only did dust from the mine spread all over Libby and the neighboring town of Troy for decades, but tailings from the facility also were used as fill for driveways, gardens and playgrounds. Literally no matter where these residents turned, they were being exposed yet again.
Hopefully, this declaration will be a reminder to others of the serious consequences of mismanaging hazardous material. Six million dollars from the Department of Health and Human Services will go to local health care providers to screen, diagnose and treat asbestos-related illnesses, while $125 million will go toward cleaning up contaminated areas. The new commitment brings the total amount the EPA has designated for the Libby area to $333 million.
In 1919, the Libby operation began producing vermiculite – a mineral often used in insulation – and dust from the plant covered patches of grass, dusted the tops of cars and drifted through the air in a hazy smoke that became a part of residents’ daily lives. But the product was contaminated with tremolite asbestos, a particularly toxic substance that has been linked to mesothelioma, a cancer that can attack the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart.
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