The global COVID-19 pandemic has hit all facets of our society hard, but some already long-suffering communities in our country are being especially impacted due to a decades-long health crisis. One such place is Libby, Montana, where a now shuttered vermiculite mine has poisoned the soil, air, and water of local residents who have received diagnoses for asbestos-related health conditions by the hundreds and thousands, which makes them especially vulnerable to complications from COVID-19.
Lincoln County, which is home to the town of Libby, ranks near the top of the nation’s mortality rate for asbestos-related mortality rates. Hundreds in the county have succumbed to asbestos-related diseases, which include asbestosis and mesothelioma cancer. In Libby, at least one in 10 residents suffers from an asbestos-related illness. While Lincoln County was mostly spared from the coronavirus, the virus’ fall surge has led to an increase in cases amongst a population with preexisting conditions due to asbestos exposure.
Although the Libby vermiculite mine closed for good in the 1990s, in the decades prior the town and its residents had been exposed to asbestos spewing from the site. Vermiculite itself does not contain asbestos, but the two are both naturally occurring minerals that are often found side by side one another. If companies sourcing and processing vermiculite do not exercise due caution, innocent workers and nearby residents can be put at risk for exposure to the dangerous carcinogen.