The Worst United States Man-Made Disasters: Asbestos Contamination in Libby, Montana

Jennie Wood

Asbestos Contamination in Libby, Montana
libby mont asbestos
In the early 1900s, the hydrous phyllosilicate mineral vermiculite was discovered in the mountains near Libby, Montana. When W.R Grace Co., a chemical conglomerate, bought the local mine in 1963, Libby was producing 80% of the world's vermiculite. The problem was that the vermiculite contained asbestos. And products from the town's mine were used for landscaping and local building. The incident became the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) first declared public health emergency, which covered both the town of Libby and nearby Troy.
By 2010, more than 200 people, nearly 10% of Libby's population, had died from asbestos contamination. As of 2015, the EPA had spent $425 million on medial assistance and cleanup, including removal of asbestos-contaminated soil. W.R. Grace Co. was also one of the companies involved in several lawsuits during the 1980s over groundwater contamination in Woburn, Massachusetts, which was the subject of the film A Civil Action, starring John Travolta.
Photo source: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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