Thursday, June 18, 2009

EPA declares health emergency in Libby, Montana; federal aid will go to asbestos clean up and health care costs

Read Cornelia Dean's report in today's New York Times. Rural Libby, with a population of just 2,626, is the county seat of Lincoln County, on the Canadian border and the Idaho state line. Here's the lede from from Dean's story:

The Environmental Protection Agency declared a public health emergency on Wednesday in and near Libby, Mont., where over the course of decades asbestos contamination in a vermiculite mine has left hundreds of people dead or sickened from lung diseases.

It was the first health emergency ever declared under the Superfund law, the 1980 statute that governs sites contaminated or threatened by hazardous substances. The Libby site has been designated a Superfund priority since 2002.

One aspect of the federal government's response is $6 million that will flow from the Dept. of Health and Human Services to the Lincoln County Health Clinic for treatment of those with asbestos-related ilness. More than 200 Libby-area residents have already died from asbestos-related diseases.

W. R. Grace & Co. operated the vermiculite mine from 1963 to 1983. Grace has paid the U.S. government $250 million for clean up efforts related to the site. Last month, former Grace executives were acquitted of federal charges that they had conspired to cover up the dangers associated with the mine. Read a post about that here.

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