Baucus Wants Emergency Declaration After Libby Vermiculite Spill

By Beacon Staff

Sen. Max Baucus on Friday called on federal environmental protection officials to declare a “public health emergency” in Libby after insulation that likely contained asbestos was found leaking from a small hole in an outside wall at an elementary school.

Baucus, D-Mont., called for the declaration in a letter to Stephen Johnson, chief of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The move would allow the town to get the resources needed to be cleaned up permanently, Baucus said.

“Highlighting this need is the recent news of the asbestos leak of tainted vermiculite from the wall of the Asa Wood Elementary School,” he wrote. “Leaving asbestos behind in the walls of any building, especially a school, is simply unconscionable.”

The hole at Asa Wood Elementary School was discovered Feb. 15 and probably was caused by an excavator removing snow from school grounds earlier in the month.

The excavator also apparently deposited some snow in the hole, and when the snow melted, the vermiculite trickled out. Students discovered the leak during recess and alerted a teacher.

Libby is declared a Superfund site as a result of lethal asbestos being dug up alongside vermiculite at the now-defunct W.R. Grace and Co. mine. The vermiculite was widely used as building insulation, and is prevalent throughout the town.