Workers exposed to low levels of vermiculite from Libby, Montana more than two decades ago are at an increased risk for lung disease, according to research from the University of Cincinnati (UC).
An article in Science News Daily reported today that:
Workers with low-level exposures to Libby vermiculite ore may not have obvious health effects right away, but the past exposure is something of which their physicians should be aware. Once inhaled, these fibers are very persistent and stay in the lung for a long time. They lodge in the lung tissue and the tissue that lines the chest wall and cause inflammation, which can lead to chronic lung problems and diseases. Records show that until the Montana mine was closed in 1990, it provided up to 80 percent of the world’s vermiculite supply–which was widely used in both commercial and residential applications, including home insulation, packing materials, construction materials and gardening products. Vermiculite ore is now mined from other sources that reportedly do not contain similar asbestos-like mineral fibers.
The chest X-ray changes associated with the low cumulative fiber exposure are a public health concern. The Libby vermiculite ore was widely distributed across the United States for residential and commercial use, which means it could impact not only the workers who processed it but also consumers who used it for home insulation.