EPA: Even Tiny Amounts of Asbestos Risky
A long-awaited risk study from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to guide the asbestos cleanup of Libby, Mont. is now expected in 2014. The news comes after a science board backed EPA draft reports of the study that stated even “miniscule” amounts of asbestos cause lung problems, according to a story in the Insurance Journal.
The EPA found that exceeding “extremely low levels” of airborne asbestos — 0.00002 fibers of the mineral per cubic centimeter — raises the risk of lung-scarring. Scarring of the lungs can be a precursor to serious asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma cancer. The science board said the EPA was correct in using lung-scarring to determine asbestos risk.
The forthcoming risk study will offer an idea of when cleanup work on Libby’s extensive asbestos contamination can end. The asbestos pollution is from the W.R. Grace’s onetime vermiculite mine operation. The laborious cleanup of the Libby mine began in 1999, and has cost more than $447 million.
The EPA is expected to clean up at least 80 and as many as 100 properties in Libby this year, leaving several hundred in the wings. And depending on the risk study’s findings, the number of homes needing abatement could grow significantly. Cleanup of the mine itself has “barely begun,” and remains the responsibility of W.R. Grace, says the article.
Libby has paid a huge toll in sickness and suffering because of the mine. Hundreds of people in and around the town have died or become ill from asbestos exposure. Many more deaths are expected for decades to come. But contamination from the mine goes far beyond Libby: the local vermiculite touched regions all over the country, as this EPA Web page notes. Known by the brand name "Zonolite," the asbestos-contaminated material was used in millions of homes as insulation until about 1990, when the mine was shuttered.
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