Fire threat near Libby asbestos mine acts as ‘practice exercise’

27 Oct 2017 by under News
20090617 libbymineCREDITEPA 100x100 Fire threat near Libby asbestos mine acts as practice exercise

Credit: EPA

When the West Fork Fire threated to encroach on the former W.R. Grace and Co. mine in Libby, , officials were preparing to deploy the Libby Asbestos Response Plan. As MyMeso previously reported, the mine was spared from the fire thanks to a drop in temperature and an increase in rainfall.  Daily Inter Lake reports local, state and federal officials used the experience as test run in case the mine is not as fortunate in the future, though.

“The West Fork Fire was a ways away from OU3, but we used it as an opportunity to talk about the plan,” Jennifer McCully, public health manager of the Lincoln County Health Department, told the news source. “We used it as a practice exercise. It went pretty well. We were pleased with the level of coordination.”

Christina Progress, superfund project manager with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), explained a coordinated response plan is essential because firefighters would be facing elevated asbestos exposure risks if a fire occurs near the mine. “Firefighters are exposed to higher levels because they’re digging in dirt and ash,” she said. “Commercial loggers working near the mine raise to that level, too. That’s another dust-creating [activity].” However, smoke is unlikely to be an exposure risk, she said, though there are monitoring plans in place if the risk becomes a concern.

Asbestos becomes a health risk when airborne because it can be inhaled or ingested and then lodged in internal tissue. Once imbedded in the body, it can cause inflammation that can lead to cancer-causing cell mutations. Ways to reduce exposure risk was part of the final clean-up strategy for the area.

“This fire season taught us a lot,” Progess said. “We look to incorporate that into a revised plan. We’ll continue to improve it as we can. It’s a living document.”

 

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