Although he died of cancer in 2013 before he could complete his life’s work, researcher Phillip Cook will have an impact on the evaluation of asbestos-like mineral fibers and how they affect the body. Shortly after the scientist, who worked at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for much of his career, passed away, his colleague decided the research must be completed. The results create a way to evaluate which fibrous minerals are more or less toxic. (more…)
Posts Tagged ‘vermiculite’
As part of its look back at the year 2009, the Missioulian newspaper spoke with residents of Libby, Montana, the “poster child” for mesothelioma and other asbestos related diseases. Libby and its people have been decimated by asbestos exposure from the vermiculite mine that for generations operated in the town. Even those who did not work in the mine were affected, as asbestos dust blanketed the town, spilled from trucks and railway cars, and asbestos particles were used as landfill throughout the town.
W.R. Grace & Company operated the mine. In 2009, the company and several of its officers were brought up on criminal charges, but a jury returned a verdict of “not guilty.” Many following the trial closely said the government botched its case against the company, and others argued Grace’s deep pockets simply outpaced the efforts of a handful of government lawyers.
The aquittal was another in a long line of emotional blows for Libby residents, who hoped to see W.R. Grace finally brought to justice for the devastation of their hometown, their families and loved ones. Generations of Libby residents have already died of mesothelioma, and many more are currently suffering from mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer, and a host of other ailments caused by longterm exposure to asbestos.
On June 17, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finally declared a public health emergency in Libby. This designation – the first of its kind in American history – will allow the government to increase funds to provide for medical treatment for Libby residents, and for research into asbestos disease. According to the Missoulian, Libby has already received $6 million, which is designated for patient screening and care, and the town is set to receive an additional $2 million for health care and home care assistance. The paper reports the asbestos health care clinic – the Center for Asbestos Related Diseases (CARD) – and the local hospital are planning expansions.
At the beginning of December, a series of town hall meetings were held, hoping to address important questions about safety and health, including whether or not the government’s clean-up efforts are truly making any difference.
For residents who already have seen husbands, fathers, brothers, sisters, husbands and wives die terrible deaths from asbestos disease, it is too little too late. They try to remain strong, but they are angry, and sad, and it’s hard to hold onto hope.
Read the full article by Missoulian reporter Micheal Jamison.
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 (EPA) 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 Superfund 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:
There is news this week that underscores the fears of our good friend Mike Crill, who has been so personally affected by the asbestos contamination in Libby, Montana. Mike has been concerned about how contamination from the W. R. Grace vermiculite mine in Libby, which operated for years in that town, would actually affect the entire country as a result of the product being exported to factories across the country, for use in making Zonolite insulation.
This week, a story in The Republican reports the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will provide assistance to an Easthampton, Mass., town to clean up soil that is contaminated with asbestos. The affected land is the former site of a vermiculite insulation factory operated by W.R. Grace. Although the facility closed 20 years ago, it has left a legacy of danger for residents.
According to The Republican report, Grace shipped more than 250,000 tons of vermiculite ore from its Montana mine to the Easthampton factory over a period of about 40 years.
The cleanup comes as a result of city plans to extend a scenic trail into the area, and also hopes to install a new sewer line. According to The Republican, the cleanup effort involves a span of about 1,000 feet that would be the location of the trail extension and sewer project. It is estimated that soil may have to be removed to a depth of 6-12 inches, although the EPA is still examining the area.
Asbestos exposure is linked to mesothelioma, a deadly cancer that affects the lining of the chest and lungs, or, more rarely, the abdomen or heart. The only known cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure. There is currently no known cure for meso.
There is an interesting opinion column published in the Saturday, May 16 issue of The Billings Gazette, urging Montana residents to beware of asbestos danger. The piece, published in the wake of the W.R. Grace & Co. trial, which acquitted the vermiculite mining company of criminal responsibility in the contamination of the town of Libby, Montana, warns of widespread vermiculite danger throughout the state, and beyond.
Penned by Bruce Ingraham, a resident of Butte and president of the Asbestos Contractors and Consultations Association of Montana, the column points out that vermiculite asbestos mined in Libby was shipped throughout the state of Montana and across the country by railcar. He notes that nearly 90 percent of mesothelioma cases reported in Montana occur in communities along the railroad lines, where, he says, “literally trainloads of vermiculite were used as attic or wall insulation in your home or your neighbor’s home.”
Mesothelioma is a deadly cancer most often affecting the lining of the lungs, but which also may in rarer instances affect the lining of the abdomen and/or the heart. It is solely caused by exposure to asbestos. There is currently no proven cure for mesothelioma.
Among the materials Mr. Ingraham includes on his list of asbestos hazards are boiler pipes, floor tile, linoleum, popcorn texture, ceiling tile, drywall compound, plaster and window putty. He notes that asbestos is present in many construction materials even in structures built as late as the 1990s.
Part of the problem in Montana, he says, is that compliance with the state’s Department of Environmental Quality Asbestos Control Program (ACP) is voluntary when it comes to residential projects, and that there is widespread noncompliance. Homes and apartments with less than four units are exempt from asbestos regulations, Ingraham says.
On its web site, the ACP says that the State of Montana has a specific homeowner asbestos exclusion rule for homeowners conducting renovation or demolition projects. Under this rule, homeowners are not held to the state’s asbestos abatement laws as long as asbestos-containing materials will not affect anyone besides the owner himself, or anyone outside the homeowner’s private property.
The ACP notes that the exclusion rule only applies to the homeowner, and does not extend to any contractors hired by a homeowner. According to the ACP, “Contractors who conduct demolition, renovation, remodeling, or asbestos abatement activities in a home are obligated to follow OSHA regulations and other applicable regulations. According to OSHA, the contractor must exercise due diligence by inspecting for asbestos to determine whether materials that will be impacted contain asbestos.”
But because compliance is not required on residential projects, these regulations are very often overlooked, Ingraham says. All too often, he says, the presence of asbestos is ignored by homeowners and contractors, and as a result, hundreds of Montana workers are exposed to asbestos without their knowledge, he says.
“In some Montana communities, the noncompliance rate for asbestos is 90 percent,” Ingraham writes.
Jury selection is beginning today in Missoula, Montana, for the criminal case against W.R. Grace & Co. The company is charged with knowingly exposing workers at its Libby, Montana, based mine, and residents of the town of Libby, to hazardous asbestos. The asbestos is found in vermiculite, which was mined in Libby for many years. Hundreds of people in Libby have died as a result of asbestos-related diseases, including asbestosis and mesothelioma, and hundreds more are still suffering.
Local media Missoulian.com is covering the W.R. Grace trial extensively, and has created an EXCELLENT web site with tons of resources about the case, as well as about the town of Libby, asbestos and vermiculite, the victims, the company, cleanup efforts and more. There are videos available as well. Visit the web site here: http://missoulian.com/wrgrace
The trial is being held in U.S. District Court in Missoula. A federal grand jury charged W.R. Grace & Co. in February 2005, along with seven of the company’s executives and managers. In June 2008 a Supreme Court decision upheld the grand jury’s findings so a court date could be set.
I recently spoke with Mike Crill, and posted a poem on this site that he wrote in memory of his father-in-law, who worked in the Grace mines and died of asbestosis. Mike suffers from asbestosis as well, and he is an active and outspoken advocate on behalf of the town of Libby and its residents. He believes that despite an EPA cleanup, the town is still dangerous because of the lingering threat of asbestos exposure.
When I spoke to Mike in January, he was optimistic, hoping a new President and administration would bring a fresh look at Libby, and hopeful the criminal trial would bring justice to its people.
“I’m hoping 2009 will be the beginning of the end of all that’s been allowed to happen for so long, and I hope these people will be held accountable,” he said. “This is murder, to me, because they could have stopped it and they should have.”
Yesterday, Mike emailed me several times, upset by a ruling by U.S. District Judge Donald W. Molloy, who in an order last week said that there are “no crime victims identifiable” in the Grace case, essentially barring Libby residents who are sick from asbestos exposure and serving as victim witnesses to attend the trial.
According to a news story written by Tristan Scott and published by the Missoulian, “Molloy drew his legal conclusion from an oft-evoked federal rule of evidence that prohibits witnesses from observing trial proceedings until their own testimony is complete.” The judge’s decision is based on a witness-sequestration rule, but it is usually not applied to witnesses who are the victims of alleged crimes.
The ruling excludes 34 witnesses from Libby that prosecutors had intended to call from attending the trial in full. Judge Molloy’s order says witnesses in the Grace case are not protected under the Crime Victims Rights Act, which guarantees victims of an alleged crime to the right to participate in and observe the criminal justice process.
Basically, the judge is saying that these witnesses do not qualify as “crime victims,” and therefore are not immune from the witness-sequestration rule.
Mike was livid.
“Can you believe this??? I…am not a victim???” he emailed me from Missioula, where he is picketing at the courthouse. “I can’t participate in something that belongs to me and all my loved ones who suffered and died waiting for this, their day of justice?”