Lessons Learned in Libby?

It is wise to remember that there has never been a successful cleanup of environmental asbestos

By Terry Trent

There are a few areas of concern regarding Libby cleanup that should necessarily accompany an article such as this (April 19 Beacon: “EPA Inches Closer to Releasing Libby Superfund Remedies”). First it is wise to remember that there has never been a successful cleanup of environmental asbestos in human history anywhere on our planet. There have been permanent evacuations and there have been failures with attempting to cover the fibers, but no protection has lasted for more than a few years. While it is beneficial to have a positive outlook, it is wise to keep this concept in mind.

Second, the current approach to the “management in place” of the asbestos fibers adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency in Libby, will shift the future costs of ongoing cleanup from EPA and what little WR Grace may contribute, to the state of Montana, the municipalities of both Troy and Libby and directly on top of the citizens who were victimized in the first place. In connection with this one must remember that there are literally millions of homes throughout the United States containing Libby fibers, where the residents have barely been warned, if at all, let alone a plan for future management of the fibers having been adopted.

Finally, the lessons learned in Libby, the vastly higher toxic potential of amphibole fibers, have not filtered out via regulation, word of mouth, warning or in any other manner to exposure scenarios similar to those experienced in Libby elsewhere. With the current example of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana having higher levels of death than Libby caused by environmental amphibole fibers, one can expect that the wonderful opportunity presented by the Libby disaster to correct regulations in the U.S. has been squandered, and we will continue to wait for one disaster after the next, as has been the experience in the five decades leading up to the Libby Public Health Emergency.

Terry Trent, biologist
Auburn, Calif.

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