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WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency for the first time has declared a public health emergency in a contaminated community, targeting a Montana town Wednesday for immediate federal attention.
The declaration by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson involving Libby, Mont., will not result in an evacuation, but will require an extensive cleanup and better health protections for residents with asbestos-related illnesses.
The vermiculite deposit at the Libby, Montana mine, was (and is) heavily contaminated with asbestos. Numerous people were knowingly exposed to the harmful dust of vermiculite that contained asbestos. Unfortunately, the mine had been operating since the 1920s, and environmental and industrial controls were virtually non-existent until the mine was purchased by the W.R. Grace Company in 1963. Yet, knowing the human health risks, the mining company still continued to operate there until 1990.