Asbestos Cleanup Arrives Late to Montana Town

The EPA finally granted approval for an asbestos cleanup program in Libby, Montana. The project comes 15 years after reports of rampant, asbestos-related ailments swept the small community.

Just this week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave final approval to an asbestos cleanup project for the community of Libby in Montana. The program, while costly, is crucial for the health and safety of the town’s residents. Officials claim that hundreds of people have died in the 15 years since asbestos-related illnesses began to surface.

Last year, the cleanup costs mounted to $540 million, and it will take an estimated $64 million more over the course of the next four years to remediate the contamination.

According to the EPA, these cleanup efforts won’t even cover the asbestos that seeped into the soil or the asbestos that insulates many of the area’s homes. Health officials say approximately 700 properties still need to be investigated to determine whether or not there is risk of asbestos exposure.

The state’s environmental agency still has questions for the EPA, such as what the procedures are if they find health and safety risks in the future.

The asbestos in Libby originated from a nearby vermiculite mine that, while it hasn’t been operating for 26 years, operated near the town for decades. W.R. Grace, the company that operated the mine, settled for $250 million, money that would go toward cleanup efforts. When that money runs out, like experts expect it will in 2017, the state of Montana will be on the hook for ten percent of the cleanup costs.

Some experts estimate that 400 people have died from the exposure in Libby and another 3,000 or so have been made ill. Health officials say that even small amounts of exposure could put people at risk.

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