Good News, Bad News for Libby
Just weeks after W. R. Grace, the asbestos polluter of Libby, Montana, was found not guilty of violating the Clean Air Act, the U.S. Government took a historic step when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared that a public health emergency existed in Lincoln County.1 This was the first time that such a determination had been made under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act; this classification will translate into much-needed federal funding for medical care and decontamination work.2 The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will give $6 million to the Lincoln County Health Clinic to provide treatment for those suffering from asbestos-related illnesses. According to Journalist Andrew Schneider, who has been covering the Libby story for a decade, the HHS money will cover the full medical charges oxygen, medication, hospitalizations, whatever is needed for those without insurance and will shell out federal dollars to pay charges that people with insurance may incur.3
Speaking at a June 17, 2009 press conference, the EPA's Administrator Lisa Jackson said:
This is a tragic public health situation that has not received the recognition it deserves by the federal government for far too long. We're making a long-delayed commitment to the people of Libby and Troy.4
Also present was Kathleen Sebelius of the Department of Health and Human Services who told reporters that:
Today's announcement reflects our Administration's concern for the residents of Lincoln County and our intention to act decisively to protect and improve their health and quality of life.
The long awaited recognition by the Government of the fatal impact Grace's activities had on workers and local people marks a turning point in the campaign spearheaded by Libby activists such as Gayla Benefield who said the EPA's declaration was:
a giant step forward for the healing of the community What it tells the world is that yes, there's a problem in Libby that Libby was a town that was left to die but Libby is going to live.5
June 19, 2009
1 In 1999, an Emergency Response Team was sent by the EPA to Libby to investigate local concerns and newspaper articles about the hazardous levels of asbestos pollution in the town. Libby has been on the EPA's Superfund National Priorities List since 2002.
2 Dean C. U.S. Cites Emergency in Asbestos-Poisoned Town. June 18, 2009.
4 EPA. EPA Announces Public Health Emergency in Libby, Montana (R176). June 17, 2009.
5 Linn A. Long Time Coming: EPA Declares Public Health Emergency in Libby. June 17, 2009.