For decades, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been leading the asbestos cleanup efforts in Libby, Montana. Decades ago, the vermiculite mined nearby was contaminated with asbestos. The mining efforts spread the needle-like asbestos particles throughout the town. Although the mine shut down in 1990, the asbestos contamination remained.
In 1999, the EPA started evaluating the extent of the contamination. The decontamination process began shortly after. Now, the EPA has made enough progress to allow a large part of the cleanup project to be handed off to state and local governments. These entities will take over where the EPA left off with the decontamination of residential homes. This is certainly a milestone for the time-consuming project, and the EPA did not reach it easily.
Distrust was an early challenge for the project
Media reports indicate that when the EPA initially took on the project, officials were not entirely sure what they were up against. It took years for agency officials to discover how to effectively decontaminate people’s homes, which bred distrust among locals.
The project required residents to evacuate their homes for months on end, so officials could properly decontaminate the buildings. When the agency made new discoveries about the asbestos fibers, some residents had to leave their homes again.
Although most homeowners understood the importance of this cleanup process, some were not convinced. Today, officials have thoroughly decontaminated most homes in the area, though a few holdouts remain.
With the milestone handoff in mind, families who have recently moved to the area raised concerns about the potential contamination of their homes. Many new residents wonder if the previous homeowners had the house decontaminated or not. Many also question if they should be responsible for future decontamination costs. Officials are now looking for solutions to new questions like these that are popping up throughout the city.
Some outcomes for Libby are still uncertain
Libby may be starting a new chapter in local history, but any amount of asbestos exposure can have serious consequences. Some Libby residents have already gotten sick. However, it can take decades for symptoms of asbestos-related diseases to develop.
Because it can take so long for symptoms to develop, anyone who may have been exposed to asbestos should consider scheduling regular health examinations. This can help doctors quickly diagnose an asbestos-related illness, should one develop.