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LIBBY, Mont.— Gayla Benefield and Eva Thomson are sisters who have grown used to death. For two decades, they have watched asbestos from a nearby vermiculite mine strangle their parents, Thomson's husband, an aunt, several in-laws and numerous neighbors and friends.
Even though research long showed cause for concern _ up to 70 percent of miners in a 1980s study had fibers in their lungs _ it took news reports about the deaths to drive officials to action, beginning a decade ago. After the cleanup began, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency confidently predicted it would be done in two years at a cost of $5.8 million. Ten years on, the price tag has exceeded $333 million, the deaths continue, and more asbestos keeps showing up _ in schools, in businesses, in hundreds of houses.