EPA’s proposed final asbestos cleanup strategy alarms board

Few places on the earth are more associated with asbestos than Libby, Montana. Of course, that is because few places on earth are more contaminated with asbestos than Libby, Montana.

The town has become intimately associated with asbestos because it was home to the Zonolite vermiculite mine, which supplied 80 percent of the world’s vermiculite, and was eventually owned by W.R. Grace & Company. And that vermiculite was contaminated with asbestos.

The materials and dust from the mine contaminated the entire town. Miners and residents contracted asbestos-related illnesses at high rates. Lawsuits began as people hired attorneys to sue W.R. Grace. Eventually in 1999, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began assessing the problem and in 2002, it was added to list of the EPA’s Superfund sites.

The EPA has been working to remove and contain the contamination from the site ever since, and has recently began discussing the final stages of the asbestos cleanup.

The Lincoln County Health Board was concerned that it appeared from a draft discussion that is still unofficial, that the EPA could be planning to leave homeowners and future property owners responsible for the final asbestos cleanup.

The discussions presented to the board appeared to suggest that property owners would be responsible for “remnant” vermiculite that remains in homes and surrounding locations.

One board member was alarmed that resources that the EPA had promised would turn out to be the “homeowners.” The county official who had met with the EPA indicated that this was discussed was informational and designed to obtain feedback.

It would appear that the EPA succeeded in obtaining feedback. If they wanted to see whether the county health board would willingly accept their proposal, their feedback could be summed up by one board member’s statement, “This is a horrible strategy.”