Hoping to put an end to nearly 20 years of clean-up projects in the asbestos-tainted town of Libby, Montana and surrounding areas, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a “last call” for owners of both commercial and residential properties who wish to participate in the investigation and clean-up of the toxic mineral linked to the former W.R. Grace and Company vermiculite mine in that town.
According to an article in the Daily Inter Lake, the EPA suspects that fewer than 10 percent of the properties taking advantage of this last call will need to be cleaned-up once an investigation of each property is complete.
The agency sincerely believes they’ve nearly tackled the problem in its entirety at this point, following years and years of clean-up that commenced in 1999.
“The EPA is providing this final opportunity to ensure the protection of future residents from possible exposures,” writes the agency in a press release issued last week.
If property owners believe their property has been impacted and fail to be in touch with the EPA by March 31, they could become financially responsible for any future clean-up that may have to be completed on their property.
“The agency may file a notice of environmental conditions with the Lincoln County Clerk and Recorder’s Office for properties within the Superfund site that have not participated in EPA’s program,” explains the article. “This property notice would be recorded and maintained by Lincoln County and the state of Montana to inform future owners, lenders and renters that investigation and potentially necessary cleanup work at the property has not been completed.”
Outside clean-up, at this point, generally includes removing contaminated topsoil and replacing it with a clean layer of soil. Inside clean-up usually involves asbestos-tainted insulation, including W.R. Grace and Company’s Zonolite™ insulation, which is known to contain vermiculite from the affected mine.
In these cases, the EPA removes the contaminated insulation and replaces it with a new but similar product.
The EPA has stated that they believe wholeheartedly they have succeeded in greatly reducing the cancer risk in Libby and the nearby town of Troy.
They’ve cleaned up about 7,500 properties and the air asbestos concentration in the region is now about 100,000 times lower than it was when the mine was operating and shortly after it closed.
The W.R. Grace asbestos debacle is considered one of the worst man-made environmental disasters in the United States. Experts say it ranks up there with New York’s Love Canal, with its 21,000 tons of buried toxic waste; the lead contamination in Picher, Oklahoma; and both the BP spill of 2010 and the Exxon-Valdez oil spill, the latter dating back to 1989.
W.R. Grace and Company faced about a quarter-of-a-million lawsuits for asbestos exposure before it declared bankruptcy in 2001. An appointed trustee now operates an asbestos trust on behalf of the company, compensating those who were affected by the insulation manufacturer’s negligence.