Libby, Montana, might be a small town, but it is known as a town with some of the highest concentrations of asbestos exposure and asbestos-related diseases. The town was home to a vermiculite ore mine contaminated with asbestos which has led to tens of thousands of local residents and workers being exposed to asbestos and resulting in exceptionally high levels of asbestos-related diseases.
The town was recently the epicentre of an initiative to remediate the swathes of contaminated properties. In 2002, the mine sites around the town were listed as eligible for federal cleanup funds. Following an investigation by the EPA, the town and surrounding areas were declared a public health emergency in 2009, which also allowed victims to receive federally funded healthcare services.
More than two decades since that eligibility was declared, the EPA and state agencies have spent considerable time and funding working to clean up the sites. It took twelve years for the EPA to declare that the risk to residents had been appropriately managed and a further four for the projects to be completed. Over the course of the clean-up efforts, more than 320,000 tonnes of asbestos-contaminated soil was removed.
Local residents in Libby are now eligible for free asbestos-related disease screening in the latest initiative. The Centre for Asbestos-Related Diseases was established in the nearby Lincoln County and works to track asbestos-related disease incidence and provide at-risk residents with health screenings.
With the program receiving funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the organisation is providing free screening tests, including chest X-rays, autoimmune testing via blood work, breathing tests and extensive reviews of residents’ health and exposure history. Asbestos-related disease suspicion will also allow for a computed tomography scan of the chest.
The screening program is also moving throughout the county to affected areas around Libby so that all potentially affected residents can benefit from the screening procedures.
The town’s population is less than 3,000 people, per the most recent census population count, but the CARD believes that more than 80,000 people were exposed within the city limits. To date, there have been more than 2,500 asbestos-related deaths in workers or residents of the town.