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At-risk community receives federal funding for health screening

A health clinic in Libby, Montana that specializes in asbestos-related diseases will be receiving almost $2.5 million in federal funding. This funding will help cover the cost of screening area residents for illnesses caused by asbestos exposure.

The residents of Libby have an exceptionally high risk of developing asbestos-related diseases. This may be because of the vermiculite mine that operated there for many years. The mine closed in 1990 after people discovered that the vermiculite mined there was contaminated with asbestos. Since the mine’s closure, hundreds of area residents have passed away. Thousands more have developed asbestos-related diseases.

A tale of two naturally occurring minerals

Vermiculite is a natural mineral compound that people have used in many products over the years. Companies used most of the vermiculite mined in Libby to make insulation products. Companies also sold it as a soil amendment, a component in gypsum wallboard and a component in various fireproofing materials.

Unfortunately, the vermiculite mine in Libby had a natural deposit of asbestos. Like vermiculite, asbestos is a group of naturally occurring minerals. However, when asbestos fibers are inhaled, they can cause aggressive forms of cancer. For example, mesothelioma is a type of cancer that is often linked to asbestos exposure.

Preventative testing can ensure immediate treatment

The funding that the United States Department of Health and Human Services is providing will help pay for chest x-rays and breathing tests for residents in and around Libby. When performed regularly, these preventative tests can help detect asbestos-related illnesses right away.

Asbestos-related illnesses often do not develop until decades after asbestos exposure occurred. Because asbestos-related diseases can develop so long after exposure, regular testing throughout someone’s life may be necessary for doctors to identify the disease early. Immediate identification allows appropriate treatment to begin as soon as possible, which can improve prognosis.

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