EPA declares public emergency over asbestos pollution

The US Environmental Protection Agency has for the first time used powers to declare a public health emergency due to the 'significant threat' posed by asbestos in parts of Montana.

Land in and around the towns of Libby and Troy in northwest Montana have in recent years seen hundreds of asbestos-related disease cases.

The EPA, who have been working on the area since 2000, acted after what it described as ‘staggeringly higher’ than average number of asbestos related illnesses between 1979 and 1998.

The problem for the area started when gold miners discovered vermiculite, which at this time was manufactured with Asbestos, in Libby in 1881.

By the 1920s the Zonolite Company was formed and it’s estimated the Libby mine was the source of more than 70% of all vermiculite sold in the United States from 1919 to 1990.

However, this meant the town and surrounding countryside was regularly covered in the dust of the mine’s production, exposing hundreds of people to the potentially fatal substance.

EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, announcing the emergency this week, 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, based on a rigorous re-evaluation of the situation on the ground, we will continue to move aggressively on the cleanup efforts and protect the health of the people.”

Luke Walsh

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