MTPR

W.R. Grace

The Libby eagle sits above downtown Libby, Montana.
Nicky Ouellet

In about a year, the Environmental Protection Agency will leave Libby, where it’s worked for the last two decades to clean up asbestos contamination, a lethal byproduct leftover from W.R. Grace’s vermiculite mine. But locals in Lincoln County say the EPA packing up doesn’t necessarily mean cleanup work is done.

Firefighter safety is of particular concern on the Highway 37 Fire north of Libby because of its proximity to a patch of asbestos-contaminated forest.

Among the 50 firefighters working the blaze is a group of 10 specially trained responders. They wear respirators and undergo a full body decontamination after digging fire line in a section of forest with high levels of asbestos fibers, a harmful remnant of the old W.R. Grace vermiculite mine.

The town of Libby. The Highway 37 Fire is burning 1.5 miles away from the former W.R. Grace vermiculite mine.
Courtesy Photo

The Environmental Protection Agency released a long awaited health risk study Monday that will help guide cleanup of more of the asbestos dust found in the Libby area.

Hundreds of Libby residents died, and even more were sickened by asbestos contamination from a now-closed W.R. Grace vermiculite mine and processing plant.

EPA says years of asbestos cleanup efforts are paying off in the northwest Montana town.

Dr. Deborah McKean is EPA toxicologist.