BILLINGS – State regulators are taking over maintenance of a decades-long environmental cleanup in two northwestern Montana towns where lung-damaging asbestos contamination has been blamed in hundreds of deaths.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday transferred responsibility for protecting the towns of Libby and Troy from further contamination to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.
Asbestos from a vermiculite mine owned by W.R. Grace polluted the area until it was shuttered in 1990. Cleanup work began in 2000, after media reports spurred federal officials to investigate widespread health problems among area residents.
More than 2,600 homes, businesses and other properties were cleaned up at a cost of more than $600 million under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program for hazardous sites.
But some asbestos remains in the soil and in people’s houses. With the transfer of responsibility, state and local officials will be responsible for handling any new discoveries of contamination, such as during construction or excavation work.
The microscopic fibers of asbestos can cause lung problems and eventually death. Health officials estimate that several thousand of people have been sickened in northwest Montana from exposure to Libby’s asbestos and at least 400 have died.
While state and local officials are taking over management of much of the remaining contamination, EPA will retain some oversight.
The mine site itself, just outside Libby, has yet to be cleaned up by W.R. Grace.
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