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Environmental Impact of 9/11 Attacks

EPA asbestos abatement of private residences in Libby, Montana

Project: Environmental Impact of the 9/11 Attacks
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The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that at least 192 deaths and 375 incidents of fatal lung disease in Libby, Montana were caused by exposure to tremolite asbestos from a nearby vermiculite mine. The mine was operated by the company W.R. Grace Co. for 30 years until it was sold in 1990 to Kootenai Development Co. (Schneider 11/18/1999)

Three days after the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported on asbestos contamination of homes in Libby, Montana (see November 18, 1999), the EPA dispatches an emergency response team to conduct tests to determine the level of asbestos contamination. For decades, local, state and federal agencies had ignored the known hazards at the Libby mine. (Schneider 2/2/2000; Schneider 9/15/2000) Twenty-three of the 73 outdoor air samples the EPA team will take at various locations in Libby are found to contain elevated levels of tremolite—a type of asbestos that is extremely carcinogenic due to its needle-like and sharply pointed fibers which easily penetrate the lining of the lungs. (Schneider 2/2/2000) Random air sampling inside the homes of Libby residents reveals that 11 to 23 percent of the selected homes have detectable levels of asbestos. The average level of asbestos inside Libby homes is found to be 0.0024 fibers per milliliter (f/mL), which exceeds many times the EPA cancer risk level of 0.000004 f/mL. (Jenkins 7/4/2003 pdf file)

The EPA posts a “questions and answers” page about asbestos and the EPA’s Libby investigation (see November 21, 1999) on its website. It includes only one question: “I recently read that EPA found less than 1 percent (or trace levels) asbestos at Fireman’s Park and other locations that were sampled. Is that a safe level?” The EPA responds that levels of “1 percent or less may be safe” under certain circumstances, but notes that it “could present a risk where there is enough activity to stir up soil and cause asbestos fibers to become airborne” (see 1995). (Environmental Protection Agency 6/18/2001)

An environmental health study, the largest in US history, finds that as many as 30 percent of the 5,590 adult residents tested in Libby, Montana have lung abnormalities (see November 21, 1999). This figure is as much as 150 times greater than what is normal for people with no known asbestos exposure. All of the tested adults had at one time worked or lived in Libby before the W.R. Grace Co. vermiculite mine closed in 1990. (Smith 8/24/2000)

The EPA begins removing asbestos from private homes in Libby, Montana where a nearby mining operation contaminated the surrounding area (see November 21, 1999). The EPA conducts the cleanup operation under the authority of the National Contingency Plan (NCP) (see 1972). (Jenkins 12/3/2001 pdf file; Jenkins 1/11/2002 pdf file; Kupferman 2003 pdf file; Environmental Protection Agency 7/26/2004) In some cases, it will be necessary for the EPA to take extreme measures to ensure that asbestos levels in certain homes meet EPA standards. For example, the agency will have to completely demolish one home and rebuild it after the standard procedures of replacing carpets, upholstered furniture, and professional abatement fail to reduce the presence of asbestos to an acceptable level. (Jenkins 7/4/2003 pdf file)

EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman tells residents at a town hall meeting in Libby, Montana, a designated Superfund Site where the EPA is remedying asbestos contamination (see (August 2001)), “It has never been our plan to look to you to pay for any part of this cleanup, including the cleanup of residential properties.” (Whitman 9/7/2001)

Montana Governor Judy Martz announces that she will use the Silver Bullet option to fast-track the designation of Libby, Montana (see (August 2001)) as an EPA Superfund site and put it on the National Priorities list. The designation makes Libby eligible for special funding from industry sources. (State of Montana 12/20/2001; Kupferman 2003 pdf file)


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