Internal Investigators Say EPA
Delayed Libby Asbestos Studies
From the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance
A report issued last week by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of the Inspector General faulted the agency for delays in completing health studies that were essential for guiding the clean-up of the town of Libby, the site of one of the country's worse environmental disasters, where hundreds have died or been sickened due to asbestos exposure.
The town was first declared a public health emergency in 2009, more than a decade after the EPA first responded to reports that the asbestos-tainted vermiculite in the mines of W.R. Grace and Company was making people sick, both in the mines and in the community.
Approximately $447 million has already been spent on clean-up but the town is still under the emergency declaration issued in 2009, reports an article in the Spokesman Review. In 2007, the EPA reported that a formal risk assessment would be completed in 2010. It's still not finished and now isn't expected to be done until 2014.
"That should have been the first thing they did," Libby mayor Doug Roll said upon hearing the report. "When something is hurting people - and in this case killing them - you need to find out what's toxic."
The report declared that the delays were caused by competing priorities within the agency, contracting problems, and unanticipated work that arose as the very complicated process unfolded.
Others in the agency, however, believe the inspector general's report is faulty. EPA acting regional administrator Howard Cantor said the procedures were so complex that it took years to make sure they were done properly, adding that the EPA has already addressed the clean-up of 1,700 homes and commercial properties, resulting in the removal of 1.2 million tons of contaminated soil.
The investigators, however, also cited poor communication with the people of Libby, as well as with members of Congress, for the delay. Now, they say, it's time to step up and get it done. Sen. Max Baucus, one of the leading advocates for the asbestos exposure victims in Libby, agrees.
In a statement responding to Thursday's report, Baucus said that the EPA needs to avoid its past mistakes and get its studies done quickly.
"We need to move forward with this toxicological assessment, so we are making the right decisions based on the right science," Baucus explained. In the meantime, the number of cases of mesothelioma continues to grow and experts expect them to continue to rise as the disease takes its toll on those who were exposed.