EPA: Complex Libby Asbestos Assessment Takes Time

Federal agency responds to Gov. Bullock's letter about delays in releasing Libby asbestos toxicity value

By Justin Franz

 Montana Gov. Steve Bullock says he is frustrated with the Environmental Protection Agency over delays in releasing the final toxicity values and Human Health Risk Assessment for Libby amphibole asbestos – a critical report that will direct the future of Lincoln County’s massive Superfund clean up. But officials with the EPA say that finding the toxicity value that is critical to the assessment’s release is a complex process and one that cannot be rushed.

On Nov. 3, Bullock sent a letter to the EPA asking why the toxicity value and health assessment had not yet been released. More than a year ago, EPA officials said it would be released sometime in 2014, but with December approaching it appears the federal agency will miss that mark.

“The community of Libby has been waiting for 15 years for a final cleanup plan, and it’s time to provide the people of Libby certainty regarding the proposed cleanup,” Bullock wrote to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “Further, the lack of toxicity values for Libby Asbestos Amphibole makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the state to fulfill its role under the Superfund to consult with the EPA regarding the protectiveness of a proposed cleanup.”

For years, asbestos-laden vermiculate was mined near Libby by the Maryland-based W.R. Grace & Company. The mine closed in 1990, but the effects of the poisonous asbestos have lasted for years. According to the Center for Asbestos Related Disease, also known as the CARD Clinic, some 2,000 current or former residents of Lincoln County have been diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases and at least 400 have died. Libby was declared an EPA Superfund site in 2002 and in June 2009, former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson named the town the agency’s first and only Public Health Emergency resulting from an environmental disaster.

The Human Health Risk Assessment would include risk assessments for different groups in the population, including adults, teenagers and children, and how much exposure to asbestos they would need to be impacted by it. It would also look at exposure risk from different activities in the Libby and Troy area.

The draft risk assessment was released to the public and Science Advisory Board in 2011. In 2014, the EPA sent a revised draft addressing concerns from the advisory board out for an interagency review. Once the EPA has reviewed the document internally it will update it and finalize the assessment. An official with the EPA told the Beacon this week that putting together such an assessment is complex and that the time it has taken is not unusual.

“The EPA has received and acknowledges the governor’s letter and continues to work to finalize the assessment for Libby Amphibole Asbestos. We recognize the importance of finalizing the toxicity values for Libby and the state of Montana,” the EPA official told the Beacon.

The completion of the risk assessment could mean one of two things for Libby; it will either signal the beginning of the end of the EPA cleanup or the beginning of even more work in Lincoln County.

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