Posts Tagged ‘Center for Asbestos Related Disease’

Center for Asbestos Related Disease to receive $2.5 million for asbestos health screenings

2 May 2017 by under News

Daines Official Senate Portrait 100x100 Center for Asbestos Related Disease to receive $2.5 million for asbestos health screeningsLast week a town in plagued by asbestos-related diseases received some welcome news. U.S. Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) announced last week the Center for Asbestos Related Disease () Clinic will receive $2,499,999 for asbestos health screenings. (more…)


Libby, Montana, still waiting on EPA risk assessment of asbestos Superfund site

19 Aug 2013 by under Events, News, Organizations

asbestos warning 100x100 Libby, Montana, still waiting on EPA risk assessment of asbestos Superfund siteDespite initial promises to deliver its Human Health Risk Assessment of the Libby, Mont., Superfund cleanup site in 2005, last week representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said the final report would not be ready until late 2014. Residents of Libby have been struggling for more than a decade to recover from massive amphibole asbestos contamination that likely caused the deaths and serious illnesses of hundreds of residents. (more…)


Montana newspaper series takes a look at Libby today

9 Dec 2009 by under News

A series of stories in the Daily Inter Lake, which serves Northwest Montana and which initially broke the story about widespread asbestos contamination of the town of Libby, Mont., in 1999, is featuring a series of stories about the town. The feature is related to a recent town hall style meeting organized by the University of Montana, which is seeking to get clarification from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency () about just how much toxicity remains in the town.

The town hall meeting, which was held Dec. 6, featured a panel discussion about the deadly fallout from town’s vermiculite asbestos mine, which was operated for years by W.R. Grace & Company. Even those who didn’t work in the mine were exposed to asbestos, as dust from the mine covered the surrounding area, railroad tracks and roads used to transport the materials. Asbestos was even used as filler for gardens and ballparks.

According to the Daily Inter Lake report, more than 300 deaths have been linked to asbestos exposure from the vermiculite mine. A special health clinic established by the EPA after the story broke about the widespread asbestos disease affecting Libby area residents is currently treating about 2,800 patients with varying levels of asbestos disease.

Dr. Brad Black, who oversees patient care at the clinic, called the Center for Asbestos Related Disease (CARD), says it’s impossible to really determine how many people have been affected by asbestos in Libby, because around 80,000 people “came and went in Libby while the mine was operating,” the paper reports.

Because of the long latency period of asbestos disease – which includes conditions such as asbestosis, a severe scarring of the lungs that impedes lung function and limits breathing, and mesothelioma, a deadly cancer that affects the lining of the lungs or, more rarely, the abdomen or heart – which is sometimes as long as 30 or 40 years, Black estimates cases will continue to emerge well into the future, through the year 2030.

Since the asbestos contamination of Libby was brought to light, it has been a roller-coaster ride for area residents. The EPA has spent more than $206 million to date to clean up residential and commercial properties. In June, Libby was declared a public health emergency, which is the first time the agency has made such a determination under the 1980 law. This will allow more money to be put into the town’s cleanup efforts.

However, there are still lingering questions about just how effective these cleanup efforts really are. The EPA has divided the Libby Superfund site into eight geographical units, and has so far only completed cleanup on two of those units. However, some scientists argue that the type of asbestos affecting Libby – amphibole – is much more toxic than chrysotile asbestos, and that cleanup efforts are being conducted using old research on the wrong type of asbestos.

The Daily Inter Lake reports that EPA officials have admitted they are using toxicology assessments from 1985 data on less toxic asbestos, not Libby asbestos. This is despite a more recent study completed in 2003, which “established exposure benchmarks for mesothelioma and lung cancer based on asbestos epidemiologic studies,” the news agency reports.

According to the paper, federal government risk assessment standards say cleanup efforts are necessary when there is evidence of one death per 10,000 people. In Libby, where the population is around 10,000 people, there have already been 31 deaths just from mesothelioma. This doesn’t even take into account the suffering and death from other asbestos-related diseases.

The asbestos contamination also has been a see-saw on the legal front. In May, W.R. Grace & Co. and several of its top leaders were acquitted of criminal charges related to the widespread asbestos disease affecting its residents. Nearly 800 people still have pending civil suits against the company, which have been delayed by bankrupcy claims on the part of Grace. The company is expected to emerge from bankruptcy in January.

Testimony resulting from the bankruptcy trial in October revealed that there is a 59 percent probability of death for Libby residents exposed to asbestos dust.

“No other place on the planet has that,” the Daily Inter Lake quotes attorney John Heberling, who is representing asbestos clients.

This is a fascinating and tragic series of stories, and I encourage you to visit the Daily Inter Lake online to read the full series. It includes a feature on Gayla Benefield, who, along with compatriot Les Skramstad, began the campaign to expose the Libby contamination and lobby for justice for the town. Here are just a few of the links:

What is a safe dose for Libby?
What’s next for Libby?
Asbestos victims try to stay upbeat
Advocate’s work for asbestos victims spans 35 years
Grace lawsuit claimants still in limbo


Jury aquits W.R. Grace & Co. of criminal charges

10 May 2009 by under Events, Legal, News

Libby, Montana, residents were devastated Friday afternoon when a jury returned a judgment aquiting W.R. Grace & Co. of criminal charges regarding its mining facility in the town. The case began in 2005 when a federal grand jury handed down an unprecedented indictment, alleging a 30-year conspiracy to defraud the government and knowingly endanger the residents of Libby. The indictment alleged Grace company officials knew they were exposing Libby workers and residents of the nearby town to fibers, and that they knew the exposure posed a dangerous health risk to those workers and residents. Grace denied the claims, saying they were diligent in efforts to protect workers and to meet government regulations for managing the substance.

Asbestos exposure causes serious disease, including , a severe scarring of the lungs that worsens with time and impairs the ability of its victims to breathe, and mesothelioma, a deadly cancer that affects the lining of the lungs and, more rarely, the stomach and heart.

According to the report in The Missoulian, statistics compiled by the Center for Asbestos Related Disease (CARD), located in Libby, indicate that to date 227 community members have died from asbestos disease, and there are more than 1,800 active cases resulting from exposure to the deadly fiber. The newspaper notes that “the study also attributes scores of deaths to non-occupational asbestos exposures, and finds that 77 people who never worked at Grace’s mine in Libby have died of asbestos disease since 1998.”

David Uhlmann, who is former chief of the Justice Department’s environmental crimes section, who was instrumental in developing much of the early indictment against Grace, said the Government’s case against Grace was severely limited by the court, which did not allow much of the evidence to be presented to the jury. This included some of the most incriminating internal memos, he said.

The Post quotes Uhlmann as saying, “The verdict is a fair reflection of the evidence that jurors were allowed to hear. But the question that hangs over this case is what would have happened if the government were allowed to present all of the evidence that it had amassed in this multi-year investigation.”

According to a report in The Washington Post, in a court filing the government acknowledged it “has committed discovery violations in this case,” which led to many rulings excluding its evidence and weakening its case against Grace.

The Missoulian reported the reaction of two Libby residents familiar to our readers – Gayla Benefield, who was perhaps the first to raise the outcry about the dangers of deadly asbestos in the town, said the company has “gotten away with murder.” And the paper quotes our friend Mike Crill, who worked in the asbestos mine and has lost family members to asbestos related disease and suffers himself from asbestos disease.

The Missoulian says Mike cried upon hearing the verdict. The paper quotes him: “What did they die for? What am I dying for?” Crill sobbed. “They are guilty of killing us.”


CARD physician predicts mesothelioma epidemic

11 Aug 2008 by under News, Research/Treatment

An article published by the Daily Inter Lake, which serves Northwest Montana, reports on a new study by Dr. Alan Whitehouse, a pulmonologist affiliated with the Center For Asbestos Related Disease (CARD) in Libby, Montana. Dr. Whitehouse’s study, published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, predicts an epidemic of cases in Libby in the next 10-20 years.

Dr. Whitehouse, along with four other physicians including CARD’s Dr. Brad Black, studied 31 mesothelioma cases, including 11 cases not previously reported. The study focused specifically on non-occupational asbestos exposure, including exposure to contamination of the community, the surrounding forested area, and areas in proximity to the Kootenai river and the railroad tracks used to haul vermiculite.

It is estimated that more than 200 people in Libby have died from asbestos-related disease, and CARD is following 2,000 additional asbestos cases. CARD primarily serves Libby residents who were affected by the W.R. Grace-operated vermiculite mine, which was in operation for many years, and at high capacity from the 1940s to the 1970s.

Focus has recently shifted to include people suffering from asbestos disease and mesothelioma who never came into direct contact with the vermiculite mining operation. In June, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency announced an $8 million grant to fund a five-year study of the effects of low-level asbestos exposure.


$8 million asbestos study in Libby

19 Jun 2008 by under News, Research/Treatment

After years of ignoring the dangers of , and the resulting nationwide epidemic of disease, including mesothelioma, there is a renewed interest in studying this deadly material. This week, the Billings Gazette announced the federal government will fund an $8 million study to understand the health effects of low-level exposure to asbestos. The study will be based in Libby, Montana, where more than 200 people have died to date as a result of asbestos mining operations in the town, and hundreds more people suffer from asbestos related diseases.

The Libby program, dubbed the Libby Amphibole Health Risk Initiative, is funded by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. The study is expected to span 5 years with a goal of expanding knowledge about the potential and real health issues of asbestos exposure.

Libby already has proved a tragically rich source of knowledge about long-term exposure to high levels of asbestos, as the EPA’s initial examination and cleanup of the town focused on miners with direct exposure to the substance in their jobs, as well as people who handled asbestos mineral and were exposed to asbestos dust secondarily on a daily basis.

But, the Gazette reports, too little is know about exposure to lower levels of asbestos. EPA officials hope that results of the study will benefit not only the residents of Libby, but people throughout the country.

In April, the Minnesota state legislature approved $4.9 million for its own five-year study, to be conducted under the direction of the , in connection with unusually high levels of mesothelioma affecting Iron Range mine workers. A large question in the area is whether dust from the taconite mined there – a fibrous mineral similar to asbestos – could also cause mesothelioma.

A key part of the Minnesota research will be an examination of previous asbestos exposure among mine workers, which will expand the base of knowledge about the affect of asbestos on health, in addition to the new studies about the effect of taconite.

According to the Billings Gazette, among tests to be included in the Libby study are a comparison of film and digital chest X-rays to determine which is best for assessing the lungs, a comparison of the health of people exposed to Libby asbestos in childhood versus people who weren’t, an expanded evaluation of Libby residents who were exposed to asbestos, an assessment of whether the health problems related to asbestos exposure extend beyond lung disease.

Researchers in Libby also hope to make improvements to public health tracking systems and patient health record databases, to better link exposure information to health conditions, the Gazette reports.

Gayla Benefield, perhaps one of the best-known residents of Libby for her early outcry about the health effects of asbestos on the people in her town, says she is happy to see an emphasis on research.

She was a charter member of the board of directors of the Center for Asbestos Related Disease (CARD), a not-for-profit clinic governed by a volunteer community board and devoted to healthcare, outreach, and research to benefit all people impacted by exposure to Libby amphibole asbestos. She only recently retired from her position with that organization.

“This is something I’ve wanted from the onset – more study and more research,” she says. “I’ve been especially interested in how much or how little of the (asbestos) fiber can cause meso, and I’ve been really concerned about the schools having been contaminated.”

The key, Benefield says, is to detect mesothelioma at its earliest stage, when there is still time for treatment to prolong life. When people around her in Libby began being diagnosed, she says, their mesothelioma was so advanced that many died within days of the diagnosis.

“We all – everyone in Libby – live under the threat of developing mesothelioma,” she says. “They’re never going to get all that (asbestos) fiber out of Libby, or anywhere for that matter, homes with asbestos insulation, so the research is the big thing. Any and all research having to do with mesothelioma is fantastic. A dream come true.”


The mental toll of mesothelioma

14 Apr 2008 by under Research/Treatment

The physical result of mesothelioma and asbestos disease are often all-too evident. People wracked with pain, coughing, unable to catch their breath. But what about the mental toll of this disease?

Perhaps one of the most interesting presentations at the recent Asbestos Awareness Day Conference in Detroit, at least to me, was that of Rebecca J. W. Cline, PhD, a senior scientist in Communication and Behavioral Oncology for the Karmanos Cancer Institute and Associate Professor of Family Medicine at Wayne State University.

Dr. Cline recently conducted a community-based focus group investigation in , Montana, on psychosocial issues related to vermiculite/asbestos exposure. She also is currently leading a related population-based survey investigating that community.

She describes asbestos related disease as a “slow-motion technological disaster,” in which community and social responses have a great deal to do with how people fare, mentally and socially.

The basic definition of a technological disaster is a “catastrophic event caused by humans that results in the toxic contamination of the environment.” This includes asbestos contamination, as in Libby, resulting from decades of vermiculite mining, hence “slow moving,” as well as things like oil spills, which can devastate an area fairly quickly.

Libby is the epicenter of what Dr. Cline calls “the worst environmental disaster in the United States,” with multiple generations affected. She examined in particular how stigma associated with asbestos disease can have an impact on what people do.

Dr. Cline said there are two possible responses to technological disaster – the emergence of an altruistic community, or a community in conflict. The latter, she said, is common where there is human culpability, and it was the result in Libby.

The Libby study, conducted in 2006, included focus groups and some individual interviews with adults who lived and worked in the Libby area for at least the past five years. Interview subjects included people with connections to the mine, people with no connections to the mine, people affected by asbestos disease personally, people with family affected by the disease, and people with no disease in family or person.

She found that people fell into three categories – early believers, those who immediately understood the connection of vermiculite to what was happening to the town; late believers, those who initially resisted the idea that the mine made people sick; and those in denial or conflicted, who still did not or would not believe the mine was responsible.

Dr. Cline found that there was a great deal of stigma attached to asbestos-related disease, which created a barrier to social support. People with mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases were often afraid to talk about it, she said, even to close friends.

She said that the stigma came from a variety of sources. Conflicts included concerns about the economic disaster that the loss of the mine signified for the town, for which it was the main industry and source of jobs and security. People feared that if the mine were blamed for illness and deaths in the community there would be a decline in property values, loss of jobs, and a lost way of life.

As a part or a result of that, conflict also grew from a concern about what was the truth. There was a suspicion among neighbors that people claiming illnesses were phony, money-grubbing, greedy or opportunistic, making up illnesses to get a part of a financial settlement from the mining company.

People suffering from asbestos disease personally or within their family were afraid to talk about it out of fear that they would be ostracized and shunned by their neighbors and their community.

Dr. Cline told the story of two women, best friends for years, who bumped into each other in the Center for Asbestos Related Disease, which had been established in Libby to test, diagnose and treat patients. “What are you doing here?” one whispered. “I have the asbestos,” the other whispered back. “Me too,” came the whispered response. Best friends, but afraid at the core to admit to having asbestos disease.

On top of this, people who are ill or whose family members are ill fear the health and medical disaster itself, which was already upon them. They said they felt a lack of for survival, not just for themselves or their immediate family, but for generations.

Some of those in denial, or conflicted, still refuse to be tested for asbestos disease. They don’t want to know, Dr. Cline says, or they do not believe the mine could harm them.

There appears to be one universal in Libby.

“Across the groups, people felt like the community as a whole had been stigmatized, that everyone ‘knew about Libby’ and it had been given a bad reputation,” Dr. Cline said.

In addition to the physical toll, the mental toll of asbestos disease in Libby has been incalculable, she said.