EPA Deletes Portion of Superfund Site from National Priorities List

Federal environmental officials say Libby cleanup marks progress in ongoing remediation

By Tristan Scott
An Environmental Protection Agency office. Beacon file photo

Officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the federal agency is deleting another segment of the asbestos-contaminated Superfund site in Libby from the federal National Priorities List (NPL), determining that all required cleanup activities along roadways and highways connecting the towns of Libby and Troy 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) 8 — including contaminated stretches of U.S. Highway 2, Montana Highway 37 and adjacent country roads — represents another major step in the sprawling effort to undo more than six decades of contamination in the region, during which the vermiculite mine daily spewed tons of asbestos-laden dust over the Northwest Montana town and its residents.

“This is the third operable unit deletion at the Libby Asbestos Superfund site in three years, a milestone that demonstrates the progress EPA and our partners have made in the cleanup and restoration of properties in Libby,” Betsy Smidinger, director of EPA Region 8’s Superfund and Emergency Management Division, said in a statement.

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, as well as a steady uptick in asbestos-related disease. The site is divided into eight Operable Units.

EPA is deleting OU8 based on a determination that no further remediation action is needed to protect human health and the environment, according to officials. The area will continue to be subject to operation and maintenance activities, including regular reviews to ensure protectiveness of the remedy. EPA will continue to address contamination concerns at the remaining Operable Units of the Libby Asbestos site, including the former W.R. Grace mine site.