Libby, Montana – Results of Medical Screening Program
A government-backed medical screening program has verified what many local residents already knew: living in Libby, Montana can be hazardous to your health. A federal study detected lung abnormalities in more than 1,000 local people, 18% of the 5,590 adults examined. This study was the largest national environmental health survey ever undertaken; three doctors reviewed chest X-rays, lung tests and interviews notes on each patient. A positive result was dependent on the agreement of at least two doctors; thus 18% is a conservative estimate. One of the experts concluded that 30% of those tested had been affected. The scale of the problems facing Libby residents, many of whom have watched family members, neighbours and friends succumb to deaths caused by asbestos-related diseases, becomes apparent when the 18% level of abnormalities is compared to the normal range of 0.2-2.3%. At least 200 Libby residents have died from asbestos-related diseases.
According to Chris Weis, a toxicologist for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the population of 2700 has "the most severe residential exposure to a hazardous material this country has ever seen." Ninety-five percent of respondents to the survey questionnaire report environmental exposure to asbestos generated by the operations of the W. R. Grace’s vermiculite mine on Zonolite Mountain. The highest exposure group tested was composed of W. R. Grace employees and secondary contractors, half of whom exhibited symptoms of lung abnormalities. People who had domestic contact with Grace workers also exhibited a high incidence of abnormalities. Gayla Benefield, long-time Libby resident, lost both her parents to asbestos. She has been at the forefront of the local campaign and says that the people in Libby: "are continuing our efforts diligently to not only clean up our community, but also, we are volunteering for medical research projects which have begun in the hopes that some day the mesothelioma which is the dread result of asbestos exposure will be able to be detected in our children and grandchildren in time to save their lives. Everything that is being done in Libby will not only help our community, but every community around the country that received our ore."
The $6 million health study was conducted under the auspices of The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. The results of the survey were announced by federal and state officials at a public meeting in Libby on August 23, 2001. The second phase of the study, which will proceed during September, will include the testing of 800 people who worked for W. R. Grace (the company which owned the mine) or lived, worked or played in Libby for a minimum of six months prior to December 31, 1990.
The full text of an article entitled: "Up to 30% tested in Libby hurt by asbestos" from the August 24, 2001 issue of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper can be viewed at:
During September, EPA administrator Christie Whitman, Montana Governor Judy Martz and Senators Baucus, Burns and Rehberg visited Libby and reaffirmed the commitment of federal agencies and the state government to restoring the town: "we’re in this together and we’re in it for the long haul," Whitman said. Articles on this event and other Libby-related news can be found at:
September 20, 2001