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Vermiculite mining in and near the town of Libby, Montana began in the 1920s and was continued by the W.R. Grace Company from 1963 until 1990. The vermiculite ore mined in Libby was contaminated with tremolite asbestos.
In 1999, The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) was asked by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to evaluate human health concerns in Libby that were related to asbestos exposure. DHHS was acting on requests received from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Montana Congressional delegation.
Since that time, ATSDR has worked closely with the community on a number of projects and activities, including a recently announced five year initiative to examine the health effects of exposure to Libby amphibole asbestos.
A scenic photo shot near Libby, Montana.
Overview of ATSDR Activities in Libby
ATSDR has conducted and continues to conduct a number activities related to asbestos and Libby. They include:
- Amphibole Health Risk Initiative in which the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) will invest $8 million in a series of projects related to Libby, Montana, designed to advance the scientific understanding of amphibole exposures.
- A testing program to identify and examine people whose health may have been affected by asbestos. This project, a part of the Libby Community Environmental Health Project was undertaken by ATSDR with cooperation of the DHHS Region VII Office, EPA, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, and the Lincoln County Environmental Health Department. Read more about the ATSDR medical testing and results. If you are interested in participating in medical screening in Libby, Montana, please call the Montana Asbestos Screening and Surveillance Activity (MASSA), a program funded through an ATSDR grant to the state, at 1-800-797-6143 or 406-293-5060. The MASSA office is located at 609 Mineral Avenue, Libby, Montana.
- A mortality review which compared death rates for residents of the Libby area with those in Montana and the United States for selected diseases associated with exposure to asbestos (1979–1998). The review found that for the 20-year period examined, mortality from asbestosis was approximately 40 times higher than the rest of Montana and 60 times higher than the rest of the United States.
- A Tremolite Asbestos Registry, a listing of individuals with asbestos-related disease or those at high risk of developing asbestos-related disease because of exposure to asbestos. The registry will be used to share information with those in the registry on any new therapies or diagnostic tools developed and to help policymakers and researchers better understand and prepare for treating those with asbestos-related illnesses.
- A study on the usefulness of computed tomography-scans in identifying lung problems associated with asbestos exposure. (Learn more about the protocol of the study.)
- A Tremolite Asbestos Toxicological Profile, which describes the health effects of exposure to tremolite asbestos. Peer-reviewed profiles identify and review the key literature that describes a hazardous substance's toxicologic properties.
- Case Series, which involves a review of medical records, radiographs, and CT-scans of patients with asbestos-related disease to learn more about asbestos-related illness among people with only environmental (not work-related) exposure to asbestos.
Department of Health and Human Services Agencies Involved in Libby
Other HHS agencies also made a major commitment to the Libby community and continue to provide support.
The Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA) awarded funds for a community health center (CHC) in Libby. The CHC will provide primary care services for all of Lincoln County. Its focus is on providing selected primary care services to those in the community who are medically underserved. According to HRSA officials, the CHC should receive at least $400,000 per year and can continue in perpetuity. The CHC is governed by a community board that decides on services and treatments to be provided through the clinic.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) will provide $80,000 to the hospital for psychological and social services, education, and outreach for those affected by asbestos-related problems. The initial contract is for one year and started in August, 2001. Designation as a "Health Professional Shortage Area" (HPSA) makes the community eligible to compete for HRSA programs that place health professionals in high-need areas through loan repayment incentives.
Exposure to asbestos at sites that received vermiculite from Libby
The Summary Report: Exposure to asbestos-containing vermiculite from Libby, Montana, at 28 processing sites in the United States (Summary Report) provides a review and analysis of what ATSDR and state health department partners learned during their evaluations of 28 sites that received asbestos-containing vermiculite from a mine in Libby, Montana. This report (1) offers valuable information about facilities that exfoliated asbestos-containing vermiculite, (2) identifies groups who experienced exposure to asbestos from these sites, and (3) recommends re-evaluating existing data for former exfoliation sites where residual asbestos may be present. The report also proposes important public health activities to increase awareness about this type of asbestos exposure.