In Libby we tend to be pretty frank people, so we’re not going to sugarcoat this: Libby has had a widely publicized issue with asbestos. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identified it. The company responsible for it funded the cleanup. And in 2016, a final decision was made by the EPA giving our community a clean bill of health. In all truth, we’ve moved past it and day-to-day it has no impact on life here. Still, we get questions. And if you’re looking to move here, you deserve answers. Here are a few common ones. We’re happy to direct you to additional resources. Just give us a call.
What was the cause?
From 1919 to 1990, Libby’s mines produced 80 percent of the world’s vermiculite — a mineral that expands with heat and is used in insulation, fireproofing and soil conditioning. However, this vermiculite contained asbestos, causing mining operations to come to a halt.
How was it cleaned up?
In 2002, the EPA declared the area a Superfund site and the vermiculite mine’s owner agreed to pay $250 million toward the town’s cleanup. Fifteen years of intensive cleanup work followed. Most of the asbestos that once affected Libby is now either safely removed or buried and inaccessible in walls, ceilings and underground. As a result, Libby’s air quality surpasses most Montana communities, including the capital city of Helena.
Are there lingering health concerns?
No. The environment here is healthy thanks to the thorough cleanup. Where vermiculite was found — even in attics — it was removed. Particulate levels in the air here are lower than lots of other mountain towns and well within health guidelines. And for the record, asbestos is really only a hazard if it’s airborne, so there was no impact to other key resources like our rivers, lakes, forests and drinking water.
How can I be sure the property I buy is free of asbestos?
The EPA went door-to-door to inspect homes. The vast majority of properties in Libby were inspected. Many had no asbestos contamination. Wherever contamination was found, it was removed and the area was reclaimed. So if vermiculite was found in a garden, the soil was removed and replaced. If it was found in an attic, the insulation was removed and replaced. Once properties were declared clean, property owners were presented with an official letter verifying that status. The surest way to know the property you’re looking at is clean is to request this letter from the landowner or check the public record.
What additional resources can I refer to?
For more information about asbestos in Lincoln County, visit the Asbestos Resource Program. If you’d like to read more about Libby’s transformation, visit The Montanan’s “The Rebirth of Libby,” and Outside magazine’s “So You Want to Be a Dream Town?”