A new feasibility study examines the possibility of logging some 35,000 acres of timber surrounding the town of Libby, Montana. Libby is the site of the former W.R. Grace & Co. vermiculite asbestos mine, and now the largest and most deadly Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund cleanup site in the United States.
More than 400 people died and thousands more were sickened after the mining operation released asbestos fibers over the town for years. Asbestos-related diseases include mesothelioma, a type of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, abdomen or sometimes the heart, and asbestosis, a severe scarring of the lungs.
Libby was declared a Superfund site in 2002 and a public health emergency in 2009. The EPA has spent nearly $4 million working to remove asbestos-contaminated soil and clean up buildings, parks, and other public spaces. The new study examines the possibility of rehabilitating the surrounding forest land, and helping create a new industry for Libby in logging.
However, a 2004 study by University of Montana professor Tony Ward revealed asbestos contamination levels between 14 million and 260 million asbestos fibers per square centimeter of bark surface area of trees located close to the mine site. The study theorizes the asbestos fibers are embedded in the tree bark, but the interior wood would not be affected. The challenge would be to harvest and process the trees without stirring up or releasing the asbestos fibers, stripping the bark and disposing of it safely.
Two remediation companies drafted the feasibility study in cooperation with the EPA – The Beck Group out of Portland, Ore., and Envirocon, based in Missoula. The 45-page report is titled “Asbestos Remediation Plan for Forested Areas near Libby, Montana.” The EPA is establishing current toxicity values for Libby, due to be released in 2013, and compiling a risk assessment. The remediation project team estimates it would take about 10 years to complete the remedial logging.
Source: The Missoulian