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Cleanup Activities in Libby
EPA's emergency response work in Libby has focused on removing Libby amphibole asbestos (LA) source areas. Contaminated soils are disposed of at the former vermiculite mine. Contaminated construction debris is placed in a specially designed landfill cell.
Recent cleanup efforts have focused on residences and businesses. As of 2014 EPA has conducted removals at over 2,000 residences and commercial properties.
The cleanup actions included investigation, excavation, demolition, disposal, and restoration activities. These cleanups entail detailed planning and implementation to ensure public and worker protection.
Since November 1999, EPA has:
- Opened the EPA Information Center in Libby, now located at 108 E. 9th Street.
- Investigated known sources of contamination.
- Removed vermiculite from several major source areas.
- Collected and assessed data.
- Reconsidered standard protocols for analyzing Libby amphibole asbestos samples and assessing risk from Libby asbestos exposure.
- Proposed Libby for the National Priorities List (NPL, or Superfund) at the request of Governor Martz; site listed on the NPL in 2002.
- Built a special cell in the Lincoln County Landfill for disposal of asbestos wastes.
- Completed thousands of investigation studies in Libby and Troy.
- Tested methods of remediating indoor contamination.
- Authorized and begun removal of vermiculite from Libby homes and businesses.
- Expanded a Superfund investigation to include extensive sampling and analysis and additional risk assessment.
- Begun formal human health and ecological risk assessments.
- Conducted year-long activity-based sampling (ABS) programs.
- Conducted outdoor ambient air sampling programs (still ongoing).
- Begun toxicological and epidemiological studies to support preparation of site-wide risk assessment.
- Cleaned up over 2,000 businesses and residences (2014 figures).
EPA divides large Superfund sites into separate operable units or OUs. This is done to make the project easier to manage since certain segments of the project are so different from the others. View a map of all operable units.
OUs 1, 2, 6, & 8 – Processing Areas, Rail Lines, and State Highways
The Remedial Investigations and Feasibility Studies (RI/FS) needed to support proposed plans and Records of Decision (RODs) were completed for OU1 (the former export plant) and OU2 (former screening plant) in 2009. RODs for OUs 1 and 2 were issued in May 2010 and remedial action has been completed. Sampling along the rail line, OU6, has been completed and the data are currently being analyzed. OU8, added in 2010, includes the US and state highways within the Superfund site boundaries. Activity-based sampling along Highway 37 was completed in 2010.
Vermiculite Removal in Libby Homes and Businesses (OU4)
In 2002, EPA began removing vermiculite from the interiors and exteriors of Libby homes and businesses. EPA's asbestos abatement contractors use a vacuum truck to extract the vermiculite inside and backhoes to dig up the material outside (see photos above). Air sampling is conducted during and after the removal, to ensure that hazardous levels of asbestos are not released during the cleanup actions.
During the cleanup, residents are typically relocated during the interior removals for their own safety at these busy construction sites. EPA has developed specific plans for conducting these removals. In general, EPA will remove vermiculite and restore the home, indoors and outdoors, to its pre-removal condition.
Work at the Mine Site (OU3)
OU3 encompasses the mine property and areas impacted by releases from the mine such as creeks, the Kootenai River, settling ponds, the surrounding forest, and Rainy Creek Road.
- Remedial Investigations (RI) at the mine site have begun.
- Currently EPA is evaluating the initial phases of the RI results, which include surface water, sediment and ambient air samples.
- The 2009 RI included investigations of fish and small mammals, activity-based sampling, and stream flow monitoring.
These results will provide additional information to make decisions about potential cleanup actions for the mine.
Work at the Former Stimson Mill (OU5)
EPA, in conjunction with Lincoln County and the Port Authority, has completed environmental sampling at the Stimson complex – the site of a former lumber mill. Stimson donated the property to the Port Authority to facilitate economic redevelopment when the lumber mill operations ceased in 2002.
- Vermiculite insulation and contaminated concrete were removed from certain key structures.
- As part of its commitment to the reuse of Superfund sites, EPA signed a cooperative agreement with Lincoln County and the Port Authority to assist in land-use planning at the former mill site. The planning includes data collection, assessment of infrastructure and facilities, a fire inspection, and a market analysis/master plan.
- The Remedial Investigation (RI) report is complete. A proposed plan for the cleanup of this portion of the site will be issued upon completion of the Feasibility Study (FS).
- EPA expedited cleanup of a portion of OU5 to accommodate the Stinger Welding Corporation’s new manufacturing facility.
EPA will work with other companies considering redevelopment on the remainder of OU5.
Residential and Commercial Properties in and around Troy (OU7)
The Montana Department of Environmental Quality is the lead agency for work in OU7 under a cooperative agreement with EPA. Under this arrangement, DEQ began comprehensive activities in Troy with community interviews and preliminary investigations.
- The Troy Asbestos Property Evaluation (TAPE) began in 2007 and the sampling continues as property owners request a visit.
- Certain highly contaminated properties were remediated in 2008 and 2009.
- In 2010, full-scale removal actions began in OU7 with approximately 88 properties completed.
- In 2009, ambient air sampling began throughout the OU7 boundaries.
Funding for Cleanup Activities
The Libby site was added to the National Priorities List (NPL, or Superfund) in October 2002. The NPL is a list of hazardous waste sites that are eligible for extensive, long-term cleanup under the Superfund act. An NPL listing enables a site to receive federal funds for cleanup while EPA seeks costs from the responsible parties. If there are no responsible parties who can pay for the work, the Superfund may be used. In 2008, EPA received a $250 million settlement from W.R. Grace to cover future cleanup costs at the site; this is the largest civil cash settlement in Superfund history. This settlement money is now being used to the fund the cleanup instead of Superfund or general revenue dollars.
When Cleanup is Complete: A Message to Lincoln County Residents
EPA can only sample accessible areas indoors and near ground surface outdoors; this is where contamination is most likely to occur and to be disturbed. It is impossible to sample everywhere and EPA removes material only where the sampling indicates contamination exists. Because of this, some isolated pockets of vermiculite may be missed or contained in place. It is important to be able to recognize vermiculite, should you encounter it in the future. If you do not know what it looks like, please visit the EPA Information Center, at 108 E. 9th Street in Libby, to view our examples.
When remodeling or doing yard work within the Libby Asbestos Superfund Site boundary, the local Environmental Resource Specialist (ERS) should be contacted if vermiculite that may contain Libby amphibole asbestos is discovered. The ERS will provide on-the-spot answers to questions. It’s also a good idea to consult with the ERS before a project (e.g., remodeling, excavating, etc.) is started on properties in the Libby area.
The ERS position is intended to remain after EPA finishes its work in Lincoln County to answer questions should vermiculite be encountered inside or outside of homes in the future.
If you know or think you have found vermiculite in the Libby area, do not disturb it! Contact the ERS at 406-291-5335.