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After the cleanup: Plants grow on former vermiculite plant site

One town in Montana has had a long-standing reputation for being an asbestos haven. The town was once the site of a vermiculite plant that released lethal doses of asbestos in the air for years. At least 400 people in the town died as a result of the exposure to the airborne asbestos produced by the factory. Years later, though, residents are happy to see the results of a 12-year cleanup project on the site.

While the town is not completely out of the woods in terms of exposure to asbestos, a $447 million federal cleanup removed nearly a million cubic yards of contaminated materials from the town. As astounding as this amount is, some experts say that the asbestos is not completely gone. Dig just 18 inches under the new soil, and orange barriers cover remaining asbestos. Many environmental consultants say that, despite the progress, the cleanup efforts do not go far enough in protecting residents.

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a public health emergency for the town, which it remains under today. Because symptoms of diseases associated with asbestos take decades to show up, many more people are expected to get sick in the town.

However, as of today, a park stands where the vermiculite plant used to be. Plants and grass have started growing. Events in the area are being scheduled on the grounds and the asbestos dust no long covers the surrounding properties. The park is a welcome sign for the people who have been sickened or lost loved ones because of the uniquely high level of exposure in the town.

The project remains active, though. The site of the factory was just one target of the removal process in the town. Now that the park is nearing completion, removal efforts will start focusing on the houses, buildings, public properties, rail lines and other contaminated sites in the area. The cleanup is a good reminder to people that even though asbestos removal can be costly and take time, it is imperative that it is done thoroughly and properly so that people will no longer be in danger of being fatally exposed.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Libby, Montana Asbestos Cleanup Reaches Major Milestone With Mountaintop Park," Matthew Brown, July 15, 2012

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