Wildfire threatens Libby asbestos mine

15 Sep 2017 by under News
20090617 libbymineCREDITEPA 100x100 Wildfire threatens Libby asbestos mine

Credit: EPA

What happens when a former asbestos mine catches on fire? It’s a question those fighting fires nearing , Montana, the home of the former asbestos mine, have had to address this week. News reports earlier this week discussed concerns the nearing West Fork Fire was causing due to its proximity to the mine and potential to release amounts of asbestos into the air.

However, the Flathead Beacon reports a temperature drop and rain are helping assuage fears the mine could fall victim to the fire. “We have discovered that the majority of asbestos stays with the ash,” Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) toxicologist Deb McKean said of fire’s effects on the carcinogen. “But of course, if the ash is disturbed it can resuspend in the air and somebody could breathe it in. But we do not really have any empirical data — measured data — on the movement of asbestos from a very, very large forest fire.”

If the West Fork Fire or another fire does take place at the mine, which was operational from 1963-1990, government officials say local, state and federal agencies would deploy the Libby Asbestos Response Plan and “air quality monitors would be set up through the county,” the news source reports. Commissioner Mark Peck said, “The agencies have spent months coordinating and planning for a wildfire in the former vermiculite mine site and we will continue to plan and practice for an actual event.”

Though the fire has not reached the mine, officials have acknowledged low levels of asbestos in the forest where the fire is burning or has burned, according to NBC Montana.

 

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