Libby Community Members to Celebrate Progress of Asbestos Cleanup

Residents to gather Feb. 18 to celebrate the release of the EPA's Record of Decision

By Beacon Staff
Downtown Libby. Beacon file photo

What once was one of the most polluted communities in the greater Pacific Northwest now has less asbestos in the air than many cities in Montana and a clear path toward ultimate cleanup. This week, residents will gather at the Cabinet Mountain Brewing Co. in Libby to toast 15 years of progress and to look ahead to when the community can put its legacy of asbestos pollution behind it.

“We have seen tremendous progress in the past few years,” said Mark Peck, a Lincoln County commissioner who serves the community of Libby. “For those of us who love this corner of Big Sky Country, it feels good to be coming out from under the cloud that has hung over our community.  While a great step forward, this is an interim milestone as we work closely with the EPA and Montana DEQ to position Libby for success in the long-term management of the final remedy. For now, we will bask in the rare positive news.”

In a milestone Record of Decision issued on Feb. 8, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mapped out its plan to complete the cleanup of asbestos in Libby. The asbestos, which was spread throughout the community over the course of decades by a vermiculite mining operation just outside town, has been blamed for numerous deaths and illnesses in the community.

After 15 years of intensive cleanup, most of the asbestos that once blanketed Libby is now either safely removed or buried in walls, ceilings and underground. As a result, the air quality in this community of 2,600 residents is arguably safer than other Montana communities including the capital city of Helena. In its Record of Decision, the EPA said it anticipates another four years and $64 million to finish its work in Libby. A separate Superfund project to clean up the mine itself and surrounding forestland is still under way.

Residents of Libby will gather at 6 p.m., Feb. 18, at the Cabinet Mountain Brewing Co. to celebrate the release of the Record of Decision. The brewery is located at 206 Mineral Ave. in Libby.

“There has been so much tireless work by members of this community to get us where we are today, and that’s worth celebrating,” said Kristin Smith, co-owner of Cabinet Mountain Brewery. “We chose to open a brewery in Libby because we saw a community of people who are dedicated to making this the best place it can be. It is great to see that dedication paying off with this announcement from the EPA.”

Nick Raines, manager of the Lincoln County Asbestos Resource Program, agreed that the EPA’s announcement represents a watershed for the community.

“The story of asbestos contamination in Libby has not been a happy one for anyone,” Raines said. “But when we look at where we are today, we are now able to tell a positive story about where we are and where we are headed. We now look ahead to protecting the work that the EPA has completed and preserving the legacy created by the former mine and EPA cleanup activities.”

The gathering at the brewery is free and open to the public, with beer available for purchase.

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