Libby woodchip contamination reignites asbestos fears

July 15th, 2011

An investigation by the Associated Press has revealed that officials with the Environmental Protection Agency have known about the existence of asbestos-contaminated woodchip piles in the town of Libby, Montana for at least three years, but failed to notify residents about their potential danger. In addition to being widely used for landscaping projects by citizens of Libby, the woodpiles were also hauled off and sold in retail stores outside of the city.

The EPA has spent more than $370 million over the last decade cleaning up the widespread asbestos contamination in the town of Libby. The town was once home to a vermiculite mine that was later found to be loaded with asbestos. About 400 people in Libby have died as a result of asbestos-related diseases, and about 1,750 more have been sickened.

Officials say that the contaminated woodchip piles came from trees in the forests around Libby that were contaminated with asbestos fibers from the mine. EPA studies have found the trees in the forest are contaminated with asbestos for at least eight miles from the site of the mine.

According to the Associated Press, the woodchips from the contaminated trees became a popular landscaping item for Libby residents until the EPA began its investigation in March. The AP investigation also found that the woodchips had been shipped to retailers including Wal-Mart and Home Depot before the EPA blocked the removal of the material from Libby.

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