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Libby: Frequently Asked Questions
Updated May 2015
This section of the Libby website provides responses to questions and concerns of general interest received from the public. This section will be updated regularly to include recent questions and the latest information available. Thank you for your continued interest in the Libby Asbestos Superfund Site.
Please address additional questions to:
Jennifer Lane (email@example.com), Community Involvement Coordinator
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 8
1595 Wynkoop (8OC)
Denver, CO 80202-1129
Click on a question below to see EPA's response.
- Is Libby a safer place to live in or visit now than it was ten years ago?
Yes. The Libby Asbestos site has been on EPA's Superfund National Priorities List since 2002 and cleanup has been occurring since November 1999. Since then, EPA has made significant progress in reducing the amount of Libby Amphibole asbestos (LA) in the area. This has reduced the chance of contact with LA, which is known to cause lung disease and other breathing problems. The amount of LA in air in downtown Libby is now nearly 100,000 times lower than it was while the mine and milling plants were in operation.
Although there is now much less LA in Libby, there are still potential health risks because it will never be possible to remove all the LA from the area. The Site-wide Human Health Risk Assessment has demonstrated that the EPA cleanups have been protective. Therefore, EPA will continue to take an active cleanup approach interior and exterior and we encourage those residents that have not yet participated in the cleanup program to schedule and investigation as soon as possible. This will continue to reduce the risks of exposure to LA.
- What is Libby Amphibole asbestos (LA)?
"Asbestos" is the name of a group of fibrous minerals. Asbestos fibers do not dissolve or readily disintegrate. Because of its fiber strength and heat resistant properties, asbestos has been used to make numerous products including (but not limited to) roofing shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, automobile clutches, and brakes. If disturbed, asbestos fibers can remain airborne for quite some time but eventually settle onto soil, sediment or other materials (e.g. carpet).
There are two general types of asbestos, amphibole and chrysotile. Chrysotile is the commercial asbestos most commonly used around the country. Amphibole asbestos fibers are generally straighter and break apart more easily than chrysotile fibers. The specific type of asbestos in Libby is called Libby Amphibole (LA), which is a mixture of six different asbestos minerals. One of the features of amphibole asbestos is the tendency of larger fragments to fracture, forming long, thin, needle-like mineral fibers. Please also refer to ABCs of Asbestos.
- How does asbestos make people sick?
People are more likely to contract asbestos-related diseases when they are exposed to high amounts of asbestos, exposed to asbestos often, and/or exposed for long periods of time. These effects are more often found in occupations such as mining, milling, manufacturing, insulating, shipbuilding, construction, etc. Asbestos-related illnesses have also been associated with people exposed to asbestos indirectly. Family members of those who have worked with asbestos may have contracted asbestos-related illnesses after being exposed to asbestos on the worker’s clothes.
Asbestos must get into the body to cause an adverse response and the main concern is inhalation of airborne asbestos. When asbestos enters the body, some of it is expelled; however, some inhaled asbestos may become lodged in the lungs. In response to the foreign object, the body defensive system responds. For example, the body can build scar-like tissue around the fibers which can reduce lung function. Exposure to asbestos can cause lung disease, both non-cancerous and cancerous, such as asbestosis, pleural plaques, mesothelioma, and lung cancer. Asbestosis is an illness characterized by scarring of the lungs which reduces their ability to function. Mesothelioma is an asbestos-related cancer of the membrane lining the chest or abdominal cavity.
Generally, asbestos diseases take a long time to develop—anywhere between 10 to 30 years after exposure. The potential for disease is dependent on other factors, including whether a person has smoked. Research shows that a smoker who is exposed to asbestos is 50-90 times more likely to develop an asbestos-related illness than a non-smoker. Some scientists believe that one reason for a smoker's susceptibility to asbestos is due to the loss of the lung's capability to rid itself of fibers.
If you are concerned about possible exposure, talk to your doctor and consider consulting a physician known as a pulmonologist who specializes in lung diseases. For more information on asbestos-related diseases, see the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry's page on asbestos health effects, their asbestos and health fact sheet, or EPA's page about asbestos-contaminated vermiculite. Information on asbestos-related diseases can also be found at the Center for Asbestos Related Diseases.
- Does asbestos occur naturally in the Libby area?
Yes. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral in the Libby area as well as at many other locations around the world. Vermiculite also occurs naturally in this area and many of the vermiculite deposits are contaminated with a naturally occurring asbestos called Libby Amphibole asbestos (LA).
- What is meant by the term natural "background" levels of Libby asbestos?
Many substances are found naturally in the environment such as calcium, potassium, copper and asbestos. Both vermiculite and asbestos are found in the Libby area as a part of natural geologic processes. Some of the vermiculite and asbestos found in the Libby area is due to human activities, such as mining and mineral processing. In addition, asbestos-contaminated vermiculite was sometimes used as a soil amendment and as insulation in Libby and Troy homes. Understanding the difference between the vermiculite and asbestos that is in the environment due to natural causes, versus man- made influences, is part of the remedial investigation of the Superfund site.
- Why is the background level of Libby Amphibole important?
Soil background levels and other data are used by EPA to establish cleanup goals for the site that are protective of human health and the environment. EPA generally does not establish cleanup levels (at any site) that are below background levels.
- How did asbestos get deposited throughout the Libby area?
Mining, handling, and processing of vermiculite led to widespread dissemination of mining waste in the Libby area. Libby Amphibole asbestos (LA) deposits are co-located with the vermiculite ore. The co-located deposits of LA contaminated the vermiculite; however, the amount of LA found in the vermiculite varies. LA fibers are small and were dispersed onto soil, sediment, tree, or areas inside houses. Mining operations disturbed the vermiculite and released LA into the air, where it made its way through the area and into Libby. Workers at the mine also carried the asbestos dust home on their clothes and into their vehicles after each day of work at the mine.
A transfer facility was at the base of the mountain approximately five miles from Libby and two expansion ("popping") facilities were built inside the city limits. One of these expansion facilities was next to community baseball fields and was readily accessible to children. These facilities heated vermiculite to approximately 600 degrees Fahrenheit in order to expand ("pop" or “exfoliate”) the crystals. LA fibers associated with the vermiculite may have been released to outdoor air during this process. Additionally, vermiculite containing asbestos fibers was commonly used throughout the area as construction aggregate, soil additive in gardens and yards, and insulation in homes.
LA is also found in the Libby area due to naturally-occurring geologic deposits exposed during glacial activity. Natural geologic processes may also have resulted in spreading asbestos throughout the area. EPA has conducted studies to evaluate naturally occurring background levels of asbestos in the Libby area. More information on EPA’s background study can be found in Libby Site-Wide Documents.
Action Levels and Removal Clearance Criteria
- Why isn't EPA removing vermiculite from enclosed areas?
Vermiculite can be found in walls, inaccessible crawl spaces and attics. Unless it is disturbed and released into open, exposed areas, there is no exposure and it poses no current risk. Therefore, it does not need to be removed. If a release is anticipated or has occurred, residents can call the Lincoln County Asbestos Resource Program at 406-283-2442 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Asbestos in Ambient Air in Libby
- Is the level of Libby Amphibole asbestos (LA) in ambient (outdoor) air decreasing in Libby?
As described in the February 2009 ambient air report, EPA collected data on the levels of LA in outdoor ambient air at numerous monitoring locations in and around Libby. LA concentrations in ambient air tend to be very low in winter and higher in mid- to late-summer, when conditions are usually dry. LA concentrations also tend to be somewhat higher in the northern and eastern portion of Libby than in the central and southern regions, although these differences are not statistically significant. Cancer risk and noncancer hazard estimates associated with exposures to ambient air (presented in the Site-wide Human Health Risk Assessment are within EPA's current acceptable risk ranges. In addition, the asbestos concentration in Libby ambient air today is consistent with that measured in the air of Helena and Eureka, Montana. This indicates that inhalation of LA in outdoor ambient air in and around the community of Libby is not a source of significant cancer risk or noncancer hazard to those living in or visiting Libby area.
Libby asbestos data related to decision-making are available to the public in final study reports that are posted under Site Documents.
Communication and Public Involvement
- Does EPA involve Libby citizens in the cleanup process?
Yes. The Superfund community involvement effort in Libby is extensive. The project team understands that community engagement must be flexible and tailored to Libby's specific information and involvement needs. The team welcomes suggestions of additional ways to meet the community's desire to be engaged in the Superfund project in Libby. EPA and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality are committed to involving the Libby community in the cleanup process. Critical site documents are posted on this website and are available locally at the EPA Information Center in Libby (406-293-6194) and at information repositories located at Lincoln County libraries in Libby (220 West 6th Street) and Troy (207 Third Street).
EPA also provides numerous opportunities for two-way communication and community involvement in the decision-making process. Members of EPA staff provide monthly and quarterly updates to a wide range of stakeholders including local elected officials, the Community Advisory Group, Libby Technical Advisory Group, City/County Health Board, Healthy Communities Initiative, Operations and Maintenance Work Group, and Congressional staff. Citizens also may drop by the EPA Information Center at 108 East 9th Street in Libby to talk with the EPA on-site project manager.
- What are some opportunities for community involvement in Libby?
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERLCA, or the Superfund law) incorporates community involvement into the Superfund process. The intent is to ensure appropriate opportunities for public involvement in site-related decisions, including site-wide analysis and characterization, remedial alternative analysis, and selection of remedy. EPA is required to conduct community interviews and appropriate activities to ensure public involvement.
EPA uses a variety of tools to inform and collaborate with community members about the site, including display ads and notifications in local newspapers, mailings of fact sheets and flyers, public meetings, public availability sessions and public comment periods. EPA staff also collaborate by participating in meetings hosted by other local organizations.
- Where can community members get more information?
EPA maintains a centrally located storefront Information Center in Libby at 108 East 9th Street that is staffed by an office manager and a full-time EPA on-site project manager. The Information Center provides easy access to the community for information about cleanup activities. The phone number is 406-293-6194.
Critical site documents are posted on this website and are available locally at the EPA Information Center in Libby. Information repositories are located at Lincoln County libraries in Libby (220 West 6th Street) and Troy (207 3rd Street).
- How Is EPA contributing to economic redevelopment efforts in Libby?
While EPA's primary mission is to protect human health and the environment, EPA supports the community with economic redevelopment projects when possible. For example, EPA worked closely with local agencies to expedite cleanup of a portion of the Kootenai Business Park to allow businesses such as Stinger Welding to locate a new facility on the property. We also incorporated the city's plans for Riverfront Park into EPA’s cleanup design.
- Does EPA incorporate public input into decisions?
Yes. EPA routinely incorporates public input into decisions regarding cleanup activities at Libby. Examples of public input opportunities include meetings and interviews with community members, local stakeholder groups and local officials; meetings with businesses, property owners, and the real estate community; meetings with the Community Advisory Group and Technical Advisory Group; workshops, public meetings and comment periods; and city council and county commissioners meetings.
Examples of how EPA has incorporated public input into actions include:
• In response to concerns expressed during the public comment periods for the OUs 1 and 2 proposed plans about issuing a cleanup decision before a final risk assessment, EPA committed to perform a quantitative risk assessment following completion of remedial action at OUs 1 and 2.
• EPA remediated the golf course at an earlier date than initially planned.
• EPA consulted with advocacy groups when working on creek banks.
• EPA incorporated the city's plans for Riverfront Park into our cleanup design for the area.
- Does EPA respond to questions and requests for information from Libby citizens?
Yes. EPA is committed to answer questions and requests for information from the public. EPA has an Information Center located at 108 East 9th Street in Libby and this website provides documents and lists contacts for requesting information. The website also provides site-related information, site history, technical information, reports, and links to other agencies and related sites.
Citizens may also send written questions to the following contact at EPA‘s Denver office:
Community Involvement Coordinator
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 8
1595 Wynkoop (8OC)
Denver, CO 80202-1129
Former Export and Screening Plants
- What is the current status of the former export plant (Operable Unit or OU1) and former screening plant (Operable Unit 2)?
EPA conducted remedial investigations for Riverfront Park (the former export plant/Operable Unit 1) and the former screening plant (Operable Unit 2) in 2008 and 2009. Based on the results, EPA completed a number of removal actions at the park and they were documented in a record of decision for OU1 and for OU2 in May 2010.
During 2010, EPA worked with the city of Libby at OU1 to incorporate its plans for Riverfront Park. Comprehensive remediation of Riverfront Park started in the spring of 2011 after an agreement with the city was completed. Construction was completed in 2012. EPA conducted a post-construction risk assessment, including activity-based sampling (ABS), following the establishment of a vegetative cover. No risks were identified. Institutional controls are in place in case of any breaches of the cover.
At OU2, response actions occurred from 2000-2006 and included removal of vermiculite, dust, soil and asbestos. The remedial investigation report (August 2009) described that most surface soils in OU2 have been remediated. In 2010, two areas were cleaned up at the 19-acre Flyway area, which is a large portion of OU2. Libby Amphibole asbestos (LA) is still present in subsurface soils and EPA is currently developing methods for managing those soils. A type of institutional control called an environmental covenant was placed on the Flyway property in July 2014. This ensures that the property will be maintained by the owner and any breaches to the cover will be identified and remediated.
For more information on the remedial plan, please see the Site Documents pages for Operable Units 1 and 2.
- When can the former screening plant be used for commercial development (Operable Unit 2)?
EPA finished a number of response actions at the property. Libby Amphibole asbestos (LA) is still present in subsurface soils. EPA is working on methods for managing the subsurface soil that is contaminated with LA. The Lincoln County Asbestos Resource Program (ARP) is available to help manage contaminated soils. ARP can be contacted at 406-283-2442 or send an email to email@example.com. An environmental covenant and other institutional controls are in place for the Flyway property on OU2. These controls are non-engineered instruments, such as administrative and legal controls, that help minimize the potential for human exposure to contamination and/or protect the integrity of the remedy.
- Were comments from citizens, local government and other concerned stakeholders responded to before the Records of Decision for Operable Unit 1 and Operable Unit 2 were issued?
Yes. EPA considered the comments received before issuing the records of decision (ROD) for Operable Units (OUs) 1 and 2. A total of nineteen comment submissions were made by seventeen individuals or groups. Each comment and a response from EPA were included in the RODs for OUs 1 and 2. Please refer to the OU1 and OU2 RODs including the responsiveness summaries posted under Libby OU Documents
- Why did EPA select containment instead of removing all of the contaminants in Operable Units 1 and 2?
Since asbestos is naturally occurring, it is not possible to remove all of it from the Libby area. However, EPA actions have reduced risks as demonstrated in the Site-wide Human Health Risk Assessment. As described in the records of decision for Operable Unit 1 and Operable Unit 2, EPA used a comprehensive evaluation process to select the remedy. The selected remedies eliminate the remaining exposure pathway to Libby Amphibole asbestos contamination by using a combination of containment (with soil covers) and removal (excavation and disposal). Land use and other institutional controls along with monitoring and required five-year reviews will provide assurance that the integrity of the remedies will be protected.
EPA has demonstrated that by breaking the soil-to-air exposure pathway, containment is an effective remedy. Containment remedies, including maintenance, land use, and other institutional controls, are a viable approach to protect human health and the environment. The remedies will be revisited regularly to determine if any modification is needed. For additional information, please refer to the Records of Decision for OUs 1 and 2 under Libby OU Documents.
- When will EPA review the effectiveness of the containment remedies in Operable Units 1 and 2?
Superfund law requires EPA to review remedial actions at Superfund sites where wastes have been left in place. These reviews are required to be conducted at least once every five years to determine if the actions remain protective of human health and the environment. The first five-year review is being drafted and will be completed in 2015.
Grace Settlement Funds
- Is the Grace settlement funding the cleanup at Libby?
Yes. Since the civil settlement with WR Grace in 2008, EPA has been funding the cleanup of residential and commercial properties in and near the communities of Libby and Troy with money from the settlement. WR Grace entered initial Administrative Order on Consent with EPA to investigate and develop cleanup strategies for the former vermiculite mine and surrounding contaminated forest. This ongoing work is funded and conducted by Grace. The $250 million received from the settlement with WR Grace was placed in special EPA interest bearing accounts used for the Libby site. One account was set up with $239 million of the settlement funds, which are being used to pay for Libby project costs. The remaining $11 million of the settlement funds were placed into a separate interest-bearing account that will be used to help the state of Montana pay for future operation and maintenance. The state also has a separate settlement agreement with WR Grace to provide funds for state operation and maintenance expenses.
- Who should tradespeople and firefighters working in Libby contact with questions about dealing with potential contaminated material?
EPA is concerned about tradespeople and firefighters who might encounter asbestos-contaminated vermiculite material during the course of their work, as well as wildland firefighters who may encounter asbestos contamination in forest settings. The Lincoln County Asbestos Resource Program (ARP) is available to tradespeople and firefighters to address their concerns when they encounter asbestos-contaminated vermiculite or suspect vermiculite to be present. EPA is currently working with US Forest Service to implement best management practices to reduce or prevent exposures to forest workers who may encounter asbestos in the tree bark, duff, and soil. Please refer to Asbestos in Your Home and Libby Public Health Emergency for more information. Tradespeople and firefighters who encounter vermiculite are asked to contact the ARP at 406-283-2442 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. EPA plans for the ARP program to remain in Libby after EPA cleanup activities are completed to answer questions about vermiculite from residents and businesses. Furthermore, EPA has and will continue to provide training to tradespeople and firefighters in Libby so they can manage their exposure to Libby amphibole asbestos.
Human Health Risk Assessment
- What is a human health risk assessment?
Superfund risk assessments are conducted to evaluate the potential human health and ecological risks from the uncontrolled release of hazardous substances in a step-by-step process that estimates current and future risks. The risk assessments use standardized tools, formats, and processes and are conducted by experienced professionals using site data and site-specific toxicity data for the contaminants. The results of the risk assessments are used to help make decisions for managing the contamination.
- What a Risk Assessment Is and Is Not
A risk assessment is an evaluation of the potential human health risks posed by exposure to hazardous substances. At Libby, the hazardous substance is Libby Amphibole asbestos (LA).
A Risk Assessment IS:
• A comprehensive study of the pathways through which people might come in contact with LA. (Inhalation or breathing is the pathway of concern in Libby.)
• A calculation of how likely it is that human health effects might occur in current and future residents because of the LA in a specific area. It is a tool to assist EPA in making cleanup decisions.
A Risk Assessment IS NOT:
• A study of health conditions you may already have.
• A medical examination.
• A re-creation or comparison of ways you might have been exposed to contaminants in the past to current environmental exposures.
• A study that will tell you directly if any existing health problems you have now were caused by any contact you may have had with Libby Amphibole in the past.
- Why did EPA develop LA-specific toxicity values?
Cancer toxicity values have long been available for asbestos and were established based on health effects studies that focused on common types of asbestos, including chrysotile, tremolite, amosite, and crocidolite. However, none of the existing values were specific to exposures and health effects related to Libby Amphibole asbestos (LA). Additionally, non-cancer values had not been established for any type of asbestos. Therefore, EPA promised the community that it would develop toxicity values specific to LA. In December 2014, EPA released final toxicity values specific to Libby asbestos for both cancer and non-cancer effects.
- What are toxicity values?
A toxicity value is the number that estimates the potential for harm from exposure to a substance. At the Libby Asbestos site, EPA toxicologists have worked to develop toxicity values for Libby Amphibole asbestos (LA) including the following:
• Inhalation Unit Risk (IUR) value that quantifies the exposure-response relationship for cancer from breathing concentrations of LA in the air. • Reference Concentration (RfC) value that estimates a concentrations of LA in the air that does not cause non-cancer health effects.
- What reviews of the draft Libby Amphibole (LA) toxicity values have taken place?
The draft toxicity values were reviewed internally by EPA in the spring of 2011. These values were then reviewed by other federal agencies. After review by the federal government, a public comment period was held from August 25 to October 24, 2011 to allow the public to comment on the draft values. Following the public review, EPA released the draft toxicological review and toxicity values for peer review by EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB). The SAB reviewed the values along with the public comments and made recommendations to EPA. Using the recommendations from the SAB EPA conducted additional modeling estimates, revised the toxicity values accordingly. The final toxicity values were published in EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) in December 2014. When the toxicity values were finalized, EPA was then able to release the Site-wide Human Health Risk Assessment for the Libby Asbestos Superfund site.
- What is the draft cancer Inhalation Unit Rate (IUR) for LA and what impact might it have on EPA's assessment of risk in Libby?
The Inhalation Unit Rate (IUR) relates estimated lifetime cancer risk to a constant exposure to the contaminant in air. The draft IUR for Libby Amphibole asbestos (LA) is 0.17 (fibers/cubic centimeter)-1 [(f/cc)-1]. The current IRIS value for asbestos generally is 0.23 (f/cc)-1.
- What does the cancer Inhalation Unit Rate, coupled with the Libby exposure information, mean for Libby?
The results of the Site-wide Human Health Risk Assessment confirm that EPA’s cleanup is protective and that it is now possible to live and work in Libby and Troy without fear of asbestos-related disease. Residents of Libby and Troy who have not participated in the cleanup program should contact the Libby Information Center 406-293-6194 for a property evaluation.
- What is the non-cancer Reference Concentration (RfC), and when coupled with the cumulative exposure assessment what does it mean for Libby?
The Reference Concentration (RfC) provides an estimate of the LA air concentration that is likely to be without appreciable risk of non-cancer harm. The non-cancer harm includes asbestosis and abnormalities of the lining of the lung such as localized pleural thickening. The RfC for LA is 0.00009 f/cc (fibers/cubic centimeter). RfCs are used to calculate a hazard index.
The results of the Site-wide Human Health Risk Assessment confirm that EPA’s cleanup is protective and that it is now possible to live and work in Libby and Troy without fear of asbestos-related disease. Residents of Libby and Troy who have not participated in the cleanup program should contact the Libby Information Center 406-293-6194for a property evaluation.
- How has EPA used the toxicity values?
The toxicity values are used during development of a human health risk assessment. The risk assessment evaluates the potential health risks from exposure to Libby Amphibole asbestos (LA). The evaluation looks at possible exposure during a variety of activities. These activities include, for example, housework, yard work, playing in the yard or at school, walking, bicycling and working outside.
- What do the human health risk estimates indicate?
The results of the Site-wide Human Health Risk Assessment confirm that EPA’s cleanup is protective and that it is now possible to live and work in Libby and Troy without fear of asbestos-related disease. Residents of Libby and Troy who have not participated in the cleanup program should contact the Libby Information Center 406-293-6194 for a property evaluation.
- What is EPA going to do in Libby based on the toxicity values and exposure assessment?
In 2015, EPA completed a quantitative, site-wide human health risk assessment. The human health risk assessment evaluated exposures to adults, teenagers, and children conducting a variety of activities throughout the Libby valley such as housework, playing in the yard or at school, walking, bicycling, or working in an office or outside. Site-specific remedial decision-making incorporates the information presented in the risk assessment. Consideration of risk is one of the "nine criteria" EPA uses to make remedial decisions. The other criteria include such factors as long-term protectiveness, technical feasibility, economics and community acceptance.
In mid-2015 we will issue a proposed plan for cleanup based on the risk assessment results and other site information and will engage the community in the evaluation of final cleanup options for Libby. We will consider all potential cleanup options as part of a long-term remedy for the site.
- Why did EPA proceed with cleanup decisions before a final risk assessment was completed?
EPA recognizes that residents in Libby and the surrounding area have varied views on implementing cleanup before a final risk assessment was completed. However, EPA's goal in moving forward with cleanup was to eliminate the pathways of exposure to reduce risks to human health. While we continued to study the effects of Libby Amphibole asbestos (LA) contamination on human health and the environment, it was necessary to move forward with cleanups and remedy decisions at OU1 and OU2 to prevent continued exposure to Libby asbestos.
Remedies selected in records of decision are continually subject to modification based on new information. EPA will evaluate the effectiveness of the remedy at least every five years to ensure protectiveness. These routine evaluations will include any new information. In addition, with the completion of the site-wide risk assessment, EPA will re-evaluate the remedies for OUs 1 and 2 in accordance with the review requirements in CERCLA Section 121 (c).
Kootenai Business Park (Operable Unit 5, former Stimson complex)
- What is known about the wood chip material at the Kootenai Business Park Industrial District?
Wood chips from the former Stimson Lumber Mill site in the Kootenai Business Park Industrial District (a portion of Operable Unit 5) have been sold and distributed as landscaping materials in Libby and elsewhere. Concerns were raised that the wood chips might pose a potential exposure risk to area residents. So, in October 2007, EPA collected bulk samples of the wood chips as part of the remedial investigation of OU5. EPA received final sample results in July 2008.
The results showed the presence of Libby Amphibole asbestos (LA) in a limited number of the wood chip samples. However, there were no detections of LA in activity-based samples (ABS) (air sampled during actual disturbance of the materials) collected by EPA. There are no known exposures to LA from the wood chips, so EPA plans no further action for the wood chips at the Kootenai Business Park Industrial District.
- What is the status of the 400-acre site at Kootenai Business Park?
EPA completed a remedial investigation and a number of response actions and sampling events at the Kootenai Business Park. The response actions included removing insulation and soil. Several locations also had asbestos materials and debris, which were removed. EPA will be evaluating this operable unit in the feasibility study and proposed plan, which will be released in May 2015.
- Will there be opportunities for redevelopment in the Stimson complex?
Yes. EPA hopes that portions of Operable Unit 5 can be redeveloped and contribute to the economic vitality of the community. Based on environmental characterization investigations completed to date, it appears that some portions of the site have not been impacted by asbestos. In other areas of the site, EPA has identified both visible vermiculite and varying concentrations of asbestos in soil. In 2009, EPA participated with multiple federal, state, and local efforts and the private sector to expedite remediation at a portion of the Stimson complex to allow businesses to locate in this complex. Many removal actions, inspections, and other cleanup work have been completed since then. The final remedy will be outlined in a record of decision for this operable unit which will be released late 2015.
Progress of Cleanup
- How many properties has EPA remediated at Libby?
As of April 2015, EPA, remediated 2,158 commercial and residential properties in Libby and Troy, significantly reducing risks to area families. The agencies removed about 1,072,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil and about 72,600 cubic yards of asbestos-contaminated debris and asbestos-containing vermiculite attic insulation. EPA also conducted response actions to reduce risks at former processing facilities, school yards and various abandoned waste piles. In the spring of 2011, EPA began comprehensive cleanup work at Riverfront Park, site of the former export plant (Operable Unit 1). Work was completed there in 2012. Remediation of the former screening plant (Operable Unit 2) was completed in 2010. The cleanup activities continue at approximately 90 properties per year.
Institutional controls to manage residual contamination in Operable Units 1 and 2 have been developed. EPA, USACE, and Montana Department of Environmental Quality worked with property owners, the Operation and Maintenance Workgroup, the city of Libby and the City/County Board of Health to develop proprietary and other land-use management programs for Operable Units 1 and 2. In addition, EPA is a member of the U-Dig Utility Locate Service for Lincoln and Flathead counties. A call to U-Dig (406-755-8344 or 800-551-8344) will provide information to property owners and contractors about the location of potential residual subsurface contamination before excavation projects begin.
- Why has it taken EPA so long to select a remedy for the site?
For a number of years, EPA has been working to protect human health in the communities of Libby and Troy by removing contamination where it poses the greatest threat of exposure. The recent identification of toxicity values for LA asbestos and preparation of a human health risk assessment, both completed in December, 2014, have provided the information EPA needs to move toward final remedy selection for the Libby Asbestos Superfund site.
The risk assessment shows that the removal actions taken to date are protective of human health and the environment. EPA plans to continue response actions until all properties are investigated and, where necessary, cleaned up. Some contamination may be left behind where people are not exposed to it, for example, sealed behind a wall. Institutional controls will be developed as part of the remedy to help manage future encounters with any LA asbestos contamination.
- Will EPA have to return to any properties already cleaned up?
EPA has determined that additional investigation is needed at fewer than 100 properties first evaluated in 2005 and 2006. We anticipate that 25-30 of these properties may require cleanup.
Note that EPA does not anticipate returning to any properties where a removal action took place. The risk assessment shows that where EPA completed a removal action, the properties are protective of human health.
Public Health Emergency
- Why did EPA declare a public health emergency (PHE) in Libby?
Asbestos is a known hazardous substance. Libby Amphibole asbestos (LA) has been released throughout the Libby area due to the vermiculite mining. Hundreds of cases of asbestos- related disease have been documented in Libby and Troy. The occurrence of asbestos-related diseases was not limited to the mine workers, but was spread throughout the population. EPA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency in Libby in 2009 due to the serious health impacts from asbestos contamination and to permit EPA to conduct the cleanup needed that would be protective of human health.
EPA's reasons for declaring a public health emergency are described in the Determination and Findings of Public Health Emergency for the Libby Asbestos Site, issued by EPA's Administrator Lisa Jackson on June 17, 2009, as well as other documents found at www.epa.gov/libby/phe.html. EPA is working closely with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which will help provide needed asbestos-related medical care to Libby and Troy residents.
The results of the Site-wide Human Health Risk Assessment confirm that EPA’s cleanup is protective and that it is now possible to live and work in Libby and Troy without fear of asbestos-related disease. Residents of Libby and Troy who have not participated in the cleanup program should contact the Libby Information Center at 406-293-6194 for a property evaluation.
- What was the basis for EPA's determination of a public health emergency (PHE)?
The public health emergency was based on a number of factors.
• Multiple sources of potential exposure to asbestos.
• High number of asbestos-related diseases in the communities of Libby and Troy.
• Limited medical care.
Reducing Residents' Exposure to Libby Amphibole Asbestos
- What can Libby residents do to reduce their exposures to LA?
Asbestos is hazardous when inhaled. Generally, Libby residents should avoid or at least minimize activities that stir up dust. While concentrations of Libby Amphibole (LA) asbestos in Libby's air have been significantly reduced since EPA began the cleanup, it is still important for residents to minimize the potential for exposure to LA. Here are a few precautions that Libby residents can take to reduce exposures:
• Maintain a healthy lawn to prevent bare spots.
• Work in your garden when it is damp so that you do not stir up dust.
• Following work in your yard, rinse gardening tools and hands outside within your work area after each use and before you go inside your home.
• Prior to conducting renovation or remodeling work, consult with the Lincoln County Asbestos Resource Program at 406-283-2442 to determine how to prevent exposures to asbestos-containing vermiculite.
• Use HEPA filter vacuums to vacuum your carpets. Never vacuum areas that may contain vermiculite with a regular vacuum.
• Cut and gather firewood in areas outside of the Operable Unit 3 (former vermiculite mine and surrounding forest). Do not burn firewood cut or gathered at or near the vermiculite mine in your wood stove.
• Additional information on best management practices to reduce LA exposures is provided in the Community Involvement Documents area of this website.
- If my work requires me to disturb soil and raise dust (excavator, landscaper), what can I do to reduce exposure?
Asbestos is hazardous when inhaled. This means your employer should have a program to protect you from potential exposure, including first evaluating your potential for exposure. Your employer should identify the proper equipment to prevent inhalation of asbestos.
Simple precautions include:
• Ask the property owner if they know where vermiculite might be present on their property.
• Stop work if vermiculite is discovered. Cover or wet down the material.
• Do not disturb areas where you can see vermiculite.
• Water down the work areas to reduce dust.
• Rinse off any equipment within your work area before leaving the site.
• Contact the Lincoln County Asbestos Resource Program at 406-283-2442 or send an email to email@example.com.
- Who should tradespeople and firefighters working in Libby contact with questions about dealing with potentially contaminated material?
EPA is concerned about tradespeople and firefighters who might encounter asbestos-contaminated material during the course of their work. That is why it is so important to have an effective, ongoing program in place to manage these potential exposures over the long term. The Lincoln County Asbestos Resource Program (ARP) is available to tradespeople and firefighters to address their concerns when they encounter asbestos materials or suspect asbestos materials are present. Please refer to Asbestos in Your Home and Libby Public Health Emergency for more information. Tradespeople and firefighters who encounter vermiculite are asked to contact the ARP at 406-283-2442 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Furthermore, until cleanup activities are complete, EPA has and will continue to provide training to tradespeople and firefighters in Libby, so they can manage their exposure to Libby Amphibole asbestos.
- What procedures are used during interior residential cleanups?
There are two sets of procedures used during interior cleanups at residences. One is for attic insulation and one is for interior living spaces.
• Attic insulation is removed using a vacuum truck. Afterwards, small cracks and openings are sealed and plugged. Then a visual inspection is performed to identify any remaining insulation. If there are no visual signs of insulation, a material is applied which immobilizes any remaining fibers. The last step is conducting clearance sampling to ensure the area meets EPA’s clearance criteria.
• For interior living spaces, HEPA vacuums (vacuums with high efficiency particulate air filters) are used to clean carpets and furniture. Moist cloths are used to clean surfaces; carpets and furniture are vacuumed. Drawers and closets are not opened unless there is a need to inspect for fallen vermiculite insulation. A visual inspection is then performed. The last step is conducting aggressive air sampling to ensure the area meets EPA’s clearance criteria.
- What procedures are used during exterior residential cleanups?
Exterior cleanups are performed by removing asbestos above EPA clearance criteria. Earth moving equipment is used to excavate soils to depths not greater than 18 inches in gardens and 12 inches in all other areas. Water is used to control dust. Asbestos-containing soil above EPA clearance criteria is removed and hand digging is done around tree roots, foundations, concrete drives and sidewalks.
After excavation, a visual inspection is done and clearance samples are collected to determine if EPA's clearance criteria are met. If the criteria are not met, excavation continues in 6-inch deep increments until criteria are met or a depth of 3 feet is reached. At the bottom of the 3-foot excavation, an orange fencing barrier is placed to indicate the presence of potentially contaminated soil in case future excavations go beyond this depth. Backfill is used to bring the property back to grade and then other restoration actions are completed. Information on sampling procedures is available at Libby Sampling Program Documents.
- Does EPA test the backfill soil brought in from outside of town?
Yes. Restoration fill used in Libby and Troy is tested to demonstrate that it meets project-specific physical characteristics. Only fill that is non-detect using polarized light microscopy-visual area estimation for Libby Amphibole asbestos and visual inspection for vermiculite is used for restoration.
- What if a community member finds areas of contamination that were left behind by EPA?
If you discover vermiculite when remodeling or doing yard work within the Libby Asbestos site, contact the Lincoln County Asbestos Resource Program. The ARP will provide on-the- spot answers to questions. It's also a good idea to consult with the ARP before a remodeling or excavation project is started on property in the Libby area. Please contact the ARP at 406-283-2442 or send an email to email@example.com. Please also contact the ARP at that same number for answers to other vermiculite questions.
It is important to be able to recognize vermiculite, should you encounter it. If you do not know what it looks like, please visit the EPA Information Center office, at 108 E.9th Street in Libby, to view vermiculite samples and to obtain brochures about vermiculite removal. Since it isn't possible to visually identity whether or not vermiculite is contaminated with asbestos, it is safest to assume that all vermiculite contains asbestos.
- Is EPA still performing interior cleanups?
Yes. EPA is continuing to conduct interior cleanups. As of April 2015, 1,036 interior cleanups have been completed in Libby and Troy. EPA is performing General Property Investigations, which will add to the number of additional interior cleanups.
- Are Libby residents temporarily relocated during remediation?
Yes. Libby residents are offered temporary relocation during asbestos removals. This is generally done only when two exits to the home cannot be maintained. EPA’s onsite contractor will coordinate with the property owner on:
• All sampling cleanup activities.
• Temporary relocation arrangements.
• Return to the property upon completion of the removals.
• Reimbursement for costs during relocation.
Coordination also includes facilitating interactions between the field crew and residents, obtaining residents' approval of the planned work Support is also provided to business owners to help resolve issues regarding temporary relocation.
Sampling and Analytical Methods
- What types of sampling methods does EPA use at the Libby Asbestos site?
EPA uses two types of sampling methods for air samples and two methods for soil and bulk material samples. The two methods used for air samples are Phase Contrast Microscopy (PCM) and Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM). PCM is used for measuring fibers in dust. However, this method is not capable of identifying asbestos fibers. TEM is the most sophisticated method available. It can provide images at significantly higher resolutions than other methods. This allows the user to examine fine details and identify specific asbestos fibers.
The two methods used for soil and bulk material samples are Polarized Light Microscopy (PLM), and PLM-Visual Estimation (PLM-VE). PLM is the standard method used to confirm the presence or absence of asbestos in a sample. PLM-VE is specifically used for the Libby site. It is based on the PLM method. However, it also uses a visual comparison of the number of fibers noted in a defined area to laboratory standards with a known concentration of fibers. This method is more reliable for detecting low concentrations of LA in a cost-effective manner. For more detailed information about the various sampling and analytical methods that EPA uses at the Libby Asbestos site, visit Sampling and Analysis at Libby.
- What is Activity-Based Sampling (ABS)?
Activity-based sampling (ABS) is conducted to collect air samples while participants are engaged in typical activities, such as raking, digging, mowing, riding bikes, etc. Air samples are collected from the breathing zone during these activities to measure airborne asbestos that occur during the disturbance of soil or dust. This measurement tool is a part of EPA's overall site evaluation. Contractors conducting ABS can be seen wearing respirators and white Tyvek suits because such equipment is required by health and safety regulations for potential asbestos exposures.
All ABS samples are analyzed by Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) and it is these data that are used in evaluations of potential exposures. TEM is a more complex analytical method than Phase Contrast Microscopy (PCM), Polarized Light Microscopy (PLM) and Polarized Light Microscopy-Visual Estimate (PLM-VE). TEM can distinguish between asbestos and non-asbestos fibers as well as asbestos types and can be used at higher magnifications, enabling identification of smaller asbestos fibers. ABS has been performed in Operable Units 1 through 7. The ABS summary reports can be found under Libby Sampling Program Documents.
- Are ABS sampling scenarios selected to replicate actual activities on the residential property being sampled?
Yes. While one of the objectives of the ABS program is to evaluate exposure to residents and workers in the Libby Superfund site, it is not feasible to evaluate every possible type of disturbance. As such, a number of scenarios were selected which are considered to be realistic and representative examples of disturbances at residential properties, recreational areas, and some work environments. Some ABS scenarios are meant to represent activities that happen at all residences while others are intended to estimate higher, more conservative exposures. However, it is not possible to evaluate every potential activity which may disturb soil or dust. To ensure consistency among properties, the scripted activities are performed in the same manner at each residence. For more information, please see the 2010 Sampling and Analysis Plan for OU4 Supplemental Activity-Based Sampling.
- Are the Libby schools safe even though there is vermiculite in the walls?
Yes. EPA places a high priority on protecting school children and staff. Encapsulated asbestos materials, sealed behind walls do not pose a health risk. Exterior removal actions were completed at all public schools in Libby in 2002. Additional interior and exterior removal actions have been performed when required. EPA completed multiple sampling and investigations at the schools. This included ambient-air testing and activity-based sampling (ABS). The objective of the sampling was to determine if residual asbestos poses risks to students and staff.
EPA's asbestos program for schools, mandated by the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA), is based on the principle of "in-place" management of asbestos containing material. EPA's approach is designed to prevent exposure to asbestos-containing materials and to actively monitor and manage them in place. The Site-wide Human Health Risk Assessment has demonstrated that the EPA cleanups at the schools have been protective.
A final remedy will be selected in the record of decision for Operable Units 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 in late 2015. In the meantime, the Lincoln County Asbestos Resource Program (ARP) will respond to any incidents at the school that might result in LA exposures. Please contact the ARP at 406-283-2442 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Why didn't EPA use Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) to analyze the soils at the schools instead of Polarized Light Microscopy Visual Estimate (PLM- VE), which cannot detect asbestos in low concentrations (below 1 percent)?
Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) is the most sophisticated method available for measuring asbestos in air samples. There is currently no verified method for determining soil asbestos concentrations using TEM.
Polarized Light Microscopy (PLM) is the standard method used to confirm the presence or absence of asbestos in a soil or bulk material sample. PLM-VE is specifically used for the Libby site. It is based on the PLM method. However, it also uses a visual comparison of the number of fibers noted in a defined area to laboratory standards with a known concentration of fibers. This method is more reliable for detecting low concentrations of LA in a cost-effective manner.
EPA has been working on a method that combines TEM with a sampling technology called the Fluidized Bed Asbestos Segregator (FBAS). The combination of TEM with FBAS permits the detection of very low concentrations of asbestos in soil. Although the TEM-FBAS combination permits the determination of asbestos concentration in soil, it does not provide an estimate of exposure from soil disturbance.
The only method currently available to estimate exposures associated with the disturbance of soil is activity-based sampling (ABS) combined with TEM analysis. ABS is a sampling method to collect airborne asbestos that occurs while participants are engaged in typical activities, such as raking, digging, mowing, riding bikes, etc. Therefore, EPA performs ABS on soils, asbestos fibers generated by ABS activities are collected on filters that are then analyzed by TEM. The fiber counts are used to estimate exposures and it is these data that are used in evaluations of potential health risk(s).