EPA Deletes Portion of Libby Superfund Site from National Priorities List

Federal environmental officials say removal of former export plant reflects continued cleanup progress at asbestos-contaminated site

By Tristan Scott
The EPA office in Libby. Beacon File Photo

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on May 26 said it was deleting a portion of the asbestos-contaminated Superfund site in Libby from its National Priorities List after determining that all required cleanup activities at the former export plant are complete.

Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands sickened following decades of exposure to asbestos from the now-shuttered W.R. Grace and Co. vermiculite mine, once the lifeblood of Libby, where workers filled lucrative jobs mining asbestos-laced ore, then carried the dust home on their clothes, exposing themselves and their families to the deadly fibers.

According to federal officials, removing the area known as Operable Unit (OU) 1 that includes the old export plant from its National Priorities List (NPL) represents a milestone in the sprawling effort to undo more than six decades of contamination, during which the vermiculite mine daily spewed tons of asbestos-laden dust over the idyllic town situated in Northwest Montana.

The area known as OU1 also includes Libby’s Riverfront Park and the embankments of Montana Highway 37, totaling 17 acres. Last year, federal and state officials removed OU2 from the Superfund list, determining cleanup activities were complete at the former screening plant on the Kootenai River north of Libby.

“This is the second deletion of properties in Libby from the Superfund list in two years, a milestone that demonstrates the progress EPA and our partners have made in the cleanup and restoration of properties,” EPA Regional Administrator Gregory Sopkin said in a statement. “We will continue to ensure protectiveness at this deleted Operable Unit, as well as address contamination at other Operable Units that have not been deleted.”

The Libby Asbestos Superfund site was placed on EPA’s NPL in 2002 due to high levels of Libby Amphibole asbestos in and around the communities of Libby and Troy. The site is divided into eight Operable Units.

Long-term remediation included the removal and containment of asbestos-laced contaminants and institutional controls to prevent additional exposures. EPA completed these cleanup actions in 2014.

According to officials, EPA is deleting OU1 based on a determination that no further remediation action is needed to protect human health and the environment.

The area will continue to be subject to operation and maintenance activities, including regular reviews for protectiveness. EPA will continue to address contamination concerns at remaining Operable Units of the Libby Asbestos site, which includes the former mine site.

In March, the federal agency announced it was delaying the transfer of OU4 in Libby and OU7 in Troy to state control due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Montana will eventually control OU4 and OU7, the federal government will retain jurisdiction on the remaining areas, specifically OU3, which includes the former W.R. Grace vermiculite mine and surrounding land.

For more information on the Libby Superfund Site visit the EPA’s web page here.

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