Located in the northwest of Montana, 35 miles east of Idaho and 65 miles south of Canada, lies the small town of Libby. With population of less than 3,000 people, Libby is the Lincoln country seat and presents a picturesque setting with its beautiful scenery and recreational opportunities.
However, all is not well in this beautiful looking town. In 1881, gold miners discovered presence of vermiculite in the valley. This led to mining of vermiculite by the Zonolite Company that was later taken over by W.R. Grace.
This was the start of excavation of the largest amount of vermiculite ever been mined in the US. The Libby mines produced 80% of the world’s supply of vermiculite. Unfortunately, this vermiculite was contaminated with asbestos, the natural toxic that can cause the deadly cancer mesothelioma and other diseases.
Due to the mining and processing of asbestos contaminated vermiculite, thousands of workers were exposed to this deadly mineral. Not only these workers, but their family members were also affected when it was carried home via their clothes and shoes in the form of dust. Even though this vermiculite mine was shut down in 1990, the asbestos left its traces in the surrounding areas and made way to roads, children’s park and gardens.
This caused inhalation of asbestos by millions of people. The vermiculite also made its way into various homes through the insulation material manufactured by Zonalite Company.
However, years after this mining continued, large number of respiratory diseases and deaths gave way to a huge uproar that led to the Libby Case, responsible for millions of lives. When news about asbestos contaminated vermiculite made it to the headlines, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent a team to investigate this matter.
EPA collected samples of air, soil, dust and insulation at various residential and office locations in December 1999. With these samples, it was verified that the vermiculite was indeed contaminated with asbestos which had spread over a large area in this town.
Since then, EPA has been working on the Libby case which took millions of lives. Since the findings in the year 1999, EPA has been working closely with the Libby community to help clean the asbestos remains in the valley and protect precious lives.
EPA has tried to clean the major areas where this vermiculite was mined. Now, the smaller areas around the town which include commercial and residential places are being cleaned. EPA plans to ensure that this cleanup process remains safe for human health and poses no health threat to people in the vicinity.
The large number of deaths in Libby, Montana gave rise to concern in the health department. In collaboration with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, studied the mortality statistics for Libby, Montana for a 20 year period from 1979 to 1998.
It was noticed that most of the people were dying of respiratory diseases, lung cancer, mesothelioma, digestive cancer and diseases of pulmonary circulation. Most of these people died decades after working in asbestos mines. It was concluded that most of these diseases and deaths were the direct result of asbestos exposure from vermiculite mine.
In this regard, death certificates were also reviewed to judge the accuracy of such claims. Most of these certificates were witness to the fact that people living in Libby had died from various lung and respiratory diseases and mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure. This 20 year period review also showed that the mortality rate in Libby was up to 40% to 60%, higher than other states of the US.
This asbestos contaminated vermiculite was also sent to other US states such as Alabama, Michigan, New Jersey, Florida and numerous others exposing millions of precious lives to this toxic. Thus, this Libby case was the antagonist which deprived millions of people from their lives and health.