The people of Libby, Montana, are perhaps more aware about the dangers posed by asbestos than anyone else in the U.S.
The W.R. Grace vermiculite mine that operated for decades near the town brought a great deal of the naturally occurring carcinogen to the surface. People in Libby and the surrounding areas were exposed to asbestos and many subsequently contracted illnesses such as asbestosis, lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma, a rare cancer that attacks the thin membrane that lines the body’s chest, abdomen and multiple internal organs.
According to the Associated Press, such asbestos-related diseases have claimed the lives of about 400 people in the town. An additional 1,750 are estimated to have contracted such a disease.
Now, the people in the town are facing another asbestos threat in the form of two large piles of woodchips and bark that contain asbestos, reports the news source.
AP Investigation into Piles
The AP conducted an investigation into the piles, which have been used by residents and the town in parks and near schools. In addition, the news source reports that the federal government has known that the piles contained asbestos for at least three years.
According to the news source, the Environmental Protection Agency did not prevent people from taking the material away until the AP began its investigation.
“We thought we were coming to an end and now we have this issue all over again,” said Lerah Parker, a resident who has used the woodchips.
Asbestos-tainted Woodchips Widely Used
According to local officials, about 1,000 tons of the material has been used throughout Libby for both erosion control and landscaping. In addition, an official told the news source that as much as 15,000 tons of the material were sold and taken to unknown destinations over the past decade.
Parker showed the AP her property, which contained hundreds of plantings such as trees and bushes that were all ringed with the asbestos-tainted woodchips.
EPA Responds to AP
According to the news source, the EPA said in a written statement that previous tests on the piles were too inconclusive to determine that the material in the piles posed an immediate threat to the area.
The federal agency, which has spent $370 million cleaning up Libby over the past 11 years, said that it would look further into the woodchips and create guidelines regarding how the material should be handled.