The Center for Asbestos Related Disease in Libby has added three renowned doctors from New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital to its research team. Dr. Raja Flores, Dr. Claudia Henschke and Dr. David Yankelevitz have joined the clinic’s team studying the unique type of asbestos-laden vermiculite that was mined in Libby and sickened thousands.
CARD is celebrating its 10th anniversary as an independent clinic. The Libby clinic provides healthcare and screenings to those affected by Libby amphibole asbestos. It also conducts research through the Libby Epidemiology Research Program. CARD director Dr. Brad Black said the three new researchers would help the clinic publish more of its findings.
“We’ll have a better understanding of what’s happening here and hopefully we’ll find ways to treat it,” he said.
For decades, vermiculite was mined and processed near Libby. The product had asbestos and was sold for a variety of purposes, from soil additive to home insulation. According to CARD’s administrative director, Tanis Hernandez, insulation derived from Libby vermiculite was used in 30 million homes across the country. In late 1999, reports emerged that people in Libby had been sickened from asbestos mined by the W.R. Grace and Company. In the years since, some 2,000 current or former residents have been diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases and at least 400 people have died. In 2002, the Environmental Protection Agency declared Libby a Superfund site.
In 2003, the CARD clinic, which was a department of St. John’s Lutheran Hospital, parted ways with the medical facility so that it could become a nonprofit group that could also do research. That led to the establishment of the Libby Epidemiology Research Project. According to Black, the project focuses on three areas: the risk of asbestos exposer to children; the progression of lung scarring, as seen on chest scans; and the relations between asbestos and autoimmune disorders.
A dozen specialists in Libby and at universities around the country, including the University of Montana and Idaho State University, lead the research project. Earlier this summer, three doctors from Mount Sinai joined the team and Black said they have already begun working at labs in New York.
Flores is a professor of cardiothoracic surgery and is a leader in his field. He received his medical degree from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 1992 and since then has studied the treatment of mesothelioma.
Henschke is a clinical professor of radiology and heads up the Lung and Cardiac Screening Program at Mount Sinai. She also heads the Early Lung Cancer Action Program, a ninternational group of lung cancer experts.
Yankelevitz is a professor of radiology and director of the Lung Biopsy Service at Mount Sinai. His primary research focus is lung cancer and he has written more than 200 books and chapters.
Black said the three doctors from Mount Sinai would advance the clinic’s research and help the town in the long run.
“We’re bringing high-quality people here to do high-quality work,” he said.
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