Montana Gov. Steve Bullock pressed federal regulators in a recent letter to wrap up a long-delayed study of asbestos dangers in a mining town where hundreds of people have died from exposure to the hazardous material.
A draft toxicology study in 2011 said even an extremely small amount of asbestos fibers from a now-shuttered W.R. Grace mine in Libby can cause health problems. While cleanup work has been underway in Libby for more than a decade, the toxicology study needs to be completed before the government can finish the work.
But representatives of Grace and others in the chemical industry have pushed for revisions. They have argued that the toxicity level set by the EPA is impractical because it exceeds background asbestos levels in parts of the country.
Bullock urged the Environmental Protection Agency to resist pressure to delay the study in a Nov. 3 letter, the Missoulian reports.
“I understand that the Libby Amphibole Asbestos values may be delayed again, and that there may be pressure upon EPA not to release those values,” Bullock wrote. “The community of Libby has been waiting for 15 years for a final cleanup plan, and it is time to provide the people of Libby certainty regarding the proposed cleanup.”
Deaths among Libby residents are expected to continue for decades because of the long latency of asbestos-related diseases.
EPA officials have said the toxicity study would be completed by late 2014.
Federal officials started investigating health problems in Libby in 1999, and the area was declared a public health emergency in 2009. About a half-billion dollars have been spent on the cleanup.
Work on the mine site outside town has barely begun. It closed in 1990 and remains the responsibility of W.R. Grace.