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After 12-year asbestos cleanup, town tries to move on (2)

Last week, we wrote about the ongoing asbestos cleanup process in Libby, Montana, and what seemed to be a major milestone in the ongoing battle to clean up the town and protect residents from additional harm: the reopening of a public park. But in the wake of that feat, environmental experts have questioned whether Riverfront Park is truly cleared of asbestos or whether it continues to place residents of the embattled town at risk.

The issue, according to environmental safety consultants working in Libby, is that the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not determined a safe level of human exposure to the asbestos that has been spread in Libby and throughout the region. As a result, homes and businesses, and even public spaces like Riverfront Park, could have to go through the cleanup process again if that base exposure level turns out to be lower than was previously expected.

In addition, harmful materials have been repeatedly found in places that were thought to have been completely cleared of them. In May, for example, an excavation to run a communication line through the park turned up additional vermiculite. Although EPA officials say that the dangerous materials have now been removed or covered, it is no surprise that many residents do not completely trust that statement.

EPA officials continue to reassure residents that their town is the safest it has been in decades, and that it improves by the day. Although vermiculite can still be found in the dirt, it is a noted improvement from 12 years ago when piles of contaminated material lay throughout the town and asbestos flowed through the air. Today, it is rare for asbestos to be detected in air monitoring tests.

Source: The Spokesman-Review, "Tiny Montana town reaches milestone in asbestos cleanup," Matthew Brown, July 16, 2012

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