Exit plan concerns residents of town destroyed by asbestos

People across North Carolina may be aware of the devastating situation that has taken place across the country in Libby, Montana. To inform people who may not be, the city was essentially a battleground for asbestos-related illnesses caused by a vermiculite mine just outside Libby. Thousands of people who worked in or near the mine and lived nearby ultimately got sick from exposure to asbestos contaminated materials, and 400 people have died as a result of asbestos exposure.

In recent years, extensive efforts by the U.S. government have been made to clean up Libby and make it safe for residents. Contaminated dirt has been removed; insulation in homes that contain asbestos have been removed. However, there is still asbestos-contaminated vermiculite all around Libby, and residents are reportedly unhappy with the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan for what they want to do with it: nothing.

We have noted in this blog before that sometimes the best thing to do with asbestos is to leave it alone. As long as the materials are not crumbling or disturbed, which can release the fibers into the air, asbestos can and typically should be left alone.

However, in this case, the EPA’s plan to leave intact asbestos materials alone isn’t sitting well with the people who have seen too many of their neighbors and loved ones get sick or die from asbestos exposure. While they understand that the fibers may not pose an immediate risk to people’s health, residents still say they want the materials removed now to prevent future contamination.

To address these concerns, the EPA has proposed that zoning restrictions be firmly enforced and that requirements for permits to build, demolish or reconstruct on property containing asbestos be rigidly controlled in order to limit the potential for toxic exposure.

At this point, it is not known whether the EPA’s plan to leave the remaining asbestos intact will move forward or not. Hopefully, the threat to the lives of Libby residents has been minimized and future efforts to keep them safe will be as effective as possible.

Source: Yahoo News, “Feds offer exit plan for Montana town’s asbestos cleanup,” Matthew Brown, May 5, 2015