EPA Moves to End Asbestos Cleanup Along Montana Railroad

Asbestos from mining has been blamed for hundreds of deaths in Libby and Troy, where asbestos was processed and shipped by rail

By Matthew Brown with the Associated Press

BILLINGS — U.S. environmental regulators are moving to end a years-long environmental cleanup along dozens of miles of railroad in two northwestern Montana communities where asbestos from mining has been blamed in hundreds of deaths.

The asbestos came from mining vermiculite that was processed and shipped by rail across the country for use as insulation, as a gardening soil additive and for other purposes.

After two decades of cleanup efforts under the federal Superfund program for hazardous sites, the Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to end its work at railyards in the towns of Libby and Troy and along 42 miles of railroad right-of-way.

The line will continue to be used, but railroad owner BNSF Railway agreed to manage the impacted area in a way that will protect human health, under a 2020 consent decree with federal authorities

Asbestos cleanup work at the mine itself is ongoing and expected to continue for years.

The W.R. Grace-owned mine operated until 1990 and left behind a legacy of toxic dust that health officials say has killed at least 400 people and sickened thousands more. Cleanup work began in 2000 after media reports spurred federal officials to investigate widespread health problems among area residents.

In all, more than 2,600 homes, businesses and other properties were cleaned at a cost of more than $600 million.