EPA Sounds Last Call on Asbestos Cleanup Effort

(CN) – Property owners in Libby, Montana, have until the end of this month to have their homes or businesses cleaned of dangerous asbestos particles left over from decades of mining in this small northwest Montana town.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency notified property owners in January of the final opportunity for those in Libby and Troy, Montana, to participate in the cleanup of asbestos. The EPA expects that less than 10 percent of remaining properties in the federal Superfund site still need a cleanup.

Hundreds of people in Libby have died from asbestos disease, a deadly lung condition caused by exposure to vermiculite asbestos.

A $24 million settlement with over 1,000 of the victims was announced in January in state court, where civil suits were lodged against the state of Montana and its insurance company for failing to notify the public of dangerous conditions at the mine while it was operating.

The civil lawsuits and the settlement stemmed from the Libby vermiculite mine, where geologic vermiculite was mined and processed into home products in the 1950s through 1991. The vermiculite contained deadly asbestos that infected workers and also carried it home on their clothes, infecting their friends and families.

The EPA said cleanups have been effective in reducing cancer and non-cancer risks in Libby and Troy since 1999, and the EPA has completed investigations or cleanups at 7,500 of 8,100 private properties identified within the Superfund site. Air asbestos concentrations in Libby and Troy are about 100,000 times lower than when the mine and processing facilities were operating, the EPA said. It is now possible to live and work in Libby and Troy without excessive exposure to asbestos, according to the EPA.

Property owners who do not participate in this last round of cleanups could become financially responsible for future cleanup, the EPA said in a statement.

On the web: www.epa.gov/superfund/libby-asbestos