The Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has confirmed allegations aired by four men in the July 27 Independent regarding the Libby asbestos cleanup.
A vermiculite mine operated by W.R. Grace and Co. contaminated the town of Libby with deadly asbestos fibers for several decades. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began cleanup of the site in 1999, after asbestos exposure had claimed more than 200 lives.
In a report released Tuesday, Dec. 5, the OIG states, “EPA cannot be sure that the ongoing Libby cleanup is sufficient to prevent humans from contracting asbestos-related diseases.”
This despite seven years, $110 million dollars worth of cleanup and EPA claims that Libby was safe.
The report states that EPA cannot ensure the cleanup is sufficient because it has never assessed the toxicity of amphibole asbestos, the type of asbestos found in Libby.
According to the OIG’s report, such assessment is usually standard procedure.
“[W]e determined that EPA had not followed its own guidance regarding the conducting of a toxicity assessment,” the report states.
The EPA has 30 days to respond to the OIG report.
For years, Libby residents Clinton Maynard, Gordon Sullivan and others asked the EPA for just such an assessment.
The OIG report credits U.S. Sens. Conrad Burns and Max Baucus as the impetus for its report.
Sullivan says he’s satisfied with the OIG’s findings, but frustrated at the difficulty of getting the report done at all.
After four years spent asking the EPA to follow its own guidelines, he complains, “We had to go to a U.S. Senator to prompt an investigation to protect our own damn health.”
He also asks an ominous question:
“Who is responsible for exposures between 1999 [when the EPA began its cleanup] and today?” he asks. “Is that on W.R. Grace or is that on the EPA?”