Cleanup Finished on a Section of the Libby Superfund Site
A section of the Montana asbestos cleanup site was removed from the Superfund list by U.S. officials, pointing to the 17 year cleanup coming to an end. The 45 acre area five miles north of downtown Libby is the first of eight units of the Libby asbestos cleanup site to be removed from the National Priorities List of sites nationwide contaminated by asbestos waste. The cleanup is ending, but the health problems due to asbestos remain for thousands of people.
Asbestos from the W.R. Grace vermiculite mine polluted Libby and the neighboring Troy until it was finally closed in 1990. It is estimated that 400 people died and 3,000 people have become sick by the exposure, with more people continuing to be diagnosed with fatal lung diseases like lung cancer and mesothelioma. The site in Montana has been a Superfund site since 2002 and has cost $596 million as of July 2017.
The announcement by federal officials is a large step towards the end of the site’s cleanup. The section that was removed from the list was contaminated by a processing plant used to screen the mined vermiculite that contained asbestos. It is now safe and nothing else needs to be done to protect people’s health and the environment.
Two other Libby Superfund units are in the process of being removed from the National Priorities List. One of them was an area surrounding another former processing plant and the other is a 400 acre industrial park that houses a lumber company. The other areas on the Superfund List are homes and businesses in Libby and Troy, rail and transportation corridors, and the W.R. Grace vermiculite mine.
The former mine and surrounding parts of the Kootenai National Forest are not part of the cleanup, and there is no cleanup plan in place. The residential and commercial property cleanup was completed in October, but it still must go through an assessment period and could take a year or longer to complete. Once taken off the Superfund site list, state and local agencies are responsible for the area. This includes handling new asbestos discoveries from construction and excavation work.