Exposure in Libby Montana
Libby Amphibole Asbestos > Exposure in Libby MontanaThe Libby, Montana community and its residents are facing a critical environmental and public health crisis caused by the slow motion technological disaster of asbestos exposure. In the fall of 1999, writer Andrew Schneider of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer broke the story (November 18, 1999 and November 19, 1999 issues) that revealed there had been hundreds of illnesses and deaths in the Libby community over the past 70 years resulting from occupational and non-occupational environmental exposures to asbestos associated with Libby's vermiculite mining and milling operations.
Six miles north of Libby, vermiculite was mined by the Zonolite Corporation from 1919-1963 and then by W.R. Grace from 1963 until the mine closure in 1990. The vermiculite contained a naturally occurring amphibole asbestos mixture which is particularly toxic to human beings. Members of the Libby community were widely exposed to asbestos-contaminated vermiculite ore through multiple pathways. The asbestos found in Libby appears to be unique in terms of its molecular composition and disease progression and is called Libby amphibole asbestos. The community wide asbestos exposure has been identified as the largest environmental and public health disaster in the nation. This has made Libby one of the highest priority superfund sites in the United States.
The asbestos exposure not only affected miners, mill-workers, and family members but also other local residents, including children, who were exposed through the ambient air. In addition, it was disclosed that not only was ambient air contaminated which exposed the entire community, but the vermiculite materials that were given away (free of charge by W.R. Grace) were also dangerously contaminated. Disturbance of contaminated source materials through common activities typically result in exposure to breathable asbestos fibers in the air. Thus it is recommended that people do not disturb the material or area if asbestos contamination is suspected. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is leading the clean up efforts in Libby and has a variety of information on their website.
For many decades, the asbestos contaminated vermiculite was utilized throughout town in many public places such as school tracks, public parks, baseball fields, as insulation in public building and schools. The waste piles next to the little league ball fields were also a popular place for children to play as their friends and siblings played ball. As of January 2005, the EPA stated that “Since November 1999, EPA has cleaned up the major source areas around town.” However, there are many private properties in the Libby area that are still in the midst of the community-wide cleanup process. Contamination of private properties includes the insulation in attics and walls of homes and businesses, and contaminated soil in gardens, yards, driveways, and sandboxes. Although W.R. Grace closed the mine in 1990 and clean up efforts have been underway since 1999 in the Libby area, the past exposures have left a complex array of healthcare and associated problems. A comprehensive exposure questionnaire is utilized by CARD healthcare providers to assess an individual's exposure pathways to identify the potential risk of developing Libby amphibole asbestos diseases.
Zonolite and Monokote are two trade names under which Libby vermiculite products were marketed. There are two overwhelming examples of the extent to which exposures can spread through commercial products. Vermiculite contaminated with Libby amphibole asbestos was used to create Zonolite attic insulation, which is estimated to be in 30 million homes in America. The second is Monokote which was used to create a fire proofing material. It was used to coat all of the steel beams that were used in the construction of the World Trade Center towers in New York City. With the collapse of the twin towers on September 11, 2001 large amounts of Libby asbestos were released into the lower Manhattan area. Some examples of other Grace products include Zonolite Finishing Cement, Zonolite Finish Coat Decorator's White and a complete Grace Product List is available at the Grace Bankruptcy Claims Information Site.
The scope of the exposures associated with the Libby amphibole asbestos contaminated vermiculite is far reaching and difficult to fully define. Many other corporations further processed Libby vermiculite incorporating it into hundreds of commercial products. Despite the difficulty in defining the scope of the problem, it becomes overwhelmingly clear that research on the unique features of Libby amphibole asbestos and the associated diseases is desperately needed. Further understanding of exposures and disease mechanism will allow for improved care and treatment for those impacted by Libby amphibole asbestos exposure and disease.