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Asbestos emergency declared in Libby, Montana

June 17, 2009 |  6:25 pm

Libby

The EPA declared a public health emergency in Libby, Mont., after decades of asbestos-related diseases and deaths in the tiny community. Hundreds of people there have died and  thousands have been sickened by a poisonous legacy of mining. W.R. Grace & Co. and its officials were acquitted in May of charges that officials knowingly concealed the dangers of mining asbestos-contaminated vermiculite. The company supplied more than 70% of U.S. vermiculite, a mineral used for insulation, from 1919 to 1990.

The announcement marks the first time the EPA has declared a public health emergency under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as Superfund, which took effect in 1980. EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson made the announcement at a joint news conference with Montana Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Sebelius announced a grant for short-term medical care in the towns of Libby and Troy. The EPA will also continue its efforts to remove asbestos from the area. 

“This is a tragic public health situation that has not received the recognition it deserves by the federal government for far too long,” Jackson said. “We’re making a long-delayed commitment to the people of Libby and Troy. Based on a rigorous re-evaluation of the situation on the ground, we will continue to move aggressively on the cleanup efforts and protect the health of the people.”

-- Amy Littlefield

Photo: A former W.R. Grace & Co. mine worker protests outside the trial against the company. Credit: Michael Albans / Associated Press

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