For most U.S. cities, a wedding in a public park is a common occurrence. But for the town of Libby, Montana, a recent wedding in the newly-renovated Riverfront Park marked a major milestone for the town and its residents. It was one of the first events held in the park following more than a decade of illness, stress and hard work as a result of the mass asbestos contamination that has plagued the town for years.
Libby is a small town near the Canadian border that, for several decades, was home to the W.R. Grace and Co. vermiculite mine. For the 30 years that the mine was in operation, Libby residents were unaware of the dangerous asbestos fibers that were blanketing their town. Life went on in and around the mine, and Libby residents even tell stories of playing in piles of raw vermiculite as children.
Even though the mine closed 20 years ago, it continues to plague Libby residents – literally. More than 1,700 people have been diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses, and an estimated 400 people have died. Because of mesothelioma’s long latency period, these numbers are expected to continue to rise in the coming decades.
Twelve years ago, the cleanup process began, in an effort to minimize the harm to local residents. To date, nearly one million cubic yards of soil and contaminated material have been removed from Libby, with the removal process still ongoing. About $450 million has been spent on cleanup thus far.
As the first completed step in the long cleanup process, Riverfront Park is a huge achievement. But just as residents begin to experience some relief from their asbestos nightmare, officials have raised concerns about the park’s safety. We will discuss that in a second blog post next week.
Source: The Spokesman-Review, “Tiny Montana town reaches milestone in asbestos cleanup,” Matthew Brown, July 16, 2012