EPA Plans Soil Excavation, Containment in Libby

By Beacon Staff

LIBBY – A combination of soil removal and containment should be used to keep asbestos that is still in the ground from reaching the air near two former vermiculite processing areas in Libby, the Environmental Protection Agency said.

The records of decision signed Monday by officials with the EPA and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality are part of the EPA’s cleanup of the asbestos-plagued Superfund community.

The idea calls for a combination of excavating contaminated soil while capping other contamination below the surface with fresh soil around the former W.R. Grace Export and Screening plants. Doing so will “break soil exposure pathways and prepare these important properties for reuse,” the EPA said in a statement.

The agency said it will work closely with the city in developing the plan so the properties can be used again.

The plants are two of the eight areas identified by the EPA as the Libby Asbestos Site. The former export plant is just north of the downtown area, situated on the Kootenai River. The former screening plant is to the east.

EPA is still conducting a risk assessment of the mine itself, and the plans for the two plants will be reevaluated once that assessment is done, the agency said.

Libby is a decade into a massive cleanup of an asbestos problem that has caused almost 300 deaths and sickened hundreds of people.

The vermiculite mine and its processing plants spewed asbestos over the northwestern Montana town for more than 70 years before it was closed in 1990. Libby residents suffer 40 to 80 times the national average in its rate of death from asbestosis, a breathing disorder caused by inhaling asbestos fibers.

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