The Associated Press reported today that the head of the Environmental Protection Agency will finally visit Libby, Montana, for a public meeting to discuss the agency’s asbestos cleanup efforts there. This is the first visit by the EPA chief to one of the worst environmental and public health disaster areas in the country.
Libby is home to the now-closed W.R. Grace & Co. vermiculite mine. The vermiculite, used in a variety of household products, contained tremolite asbestos, which was released into the air, carried home on miners’ clothing and even used in material spread on a high school running surface.
The asbestos has killed about 200 people and sickened one of every eight residents. The EPA, which has declared the area a Superfund site, first arrived in Libby in 1999, when news reports linked asbestos contamination from the mine to the deaths and illnesses. W.R. Grace operated the mine knowing about the health dangers of the asbestos contamination, but never warned workers or residents.
According to the AP, Sen. Baucus wants the EPA to be held accountable for its dilatory and inadequate cleanup efforts. “I’m angry that, after seven years, EPA still cannot say the town is safe from asbestos exposure,” Sen. Baucus said. “People are dying in Libby. I want Mr. Johnson to see it with his own two eyes.”