Wildfires ravaged forests in the state of Montana are putting a so-called SuperFund site contaminated with asbestos at risk of spreading carcinogenic particles in the air, which could endanger the lives of not only the fire crews battling the blaze but also residents nearby. The perils faced by the nearby towns are just the latest chapter in a decades-old story surrounding the vermiculite mine once owned and operated by W.R. Grace & Co., which has contaminated the nearby town of Libby and led to years of litigation surrounding mesothelioma diagnosis as a result of asbestos emanating from the mine.
The vermiculite mine outside of Libby operated for nearly 70 years, and provided the substance to create insulation material and gardening products, all the while spewing out deadly carcinogenic asbestos fibers into the air and water. Both vermiculite and asbestos are naturally occurring minerals that can be found side by side one another. If companies sourcing and processing vermiculite do not take proper safety precautions, or survey whether it is even safe to operate such a mine, then innocent workers and residents can be at risk of serious health complications like mesothelioma cancer.
As a result of the decades of toxic asbestos contamination, the Environmental Protection Agency designated the area a Superfund site. Under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980, a Superfund trust can be set up by Congress to handle emergency and hazardous waste sites needing long-term cleanup such as the one in Libby. Despite the designation by the federal government, W.R. Grace & Co. has still not followed through with efforts to abate the area of asbestos and create a safe environment in which to work.