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LibbyMt.com > News > April 2007 > Still no baseline for safe asbestos levels

. Photo by KLCB Radio.
Senator Max Baucus
Still no baseline for safe asbestos levels
How safe is safe?
April 6, 2007

It has been seven years and we still have not arrived at the starting point. And probably will not until 2010 at the earliest, and more probably 2011. That's when the EPA estimates they will be able to determine what is a safe level of tremolite asbestos.

It has been seven years and millions and millions of dollars spent and the question, "How safe is safe?" is still alluding the EPA in the W.R. Grace tremolite asbestos poisoning of the Kootenai Valley.

To put it simply, the EPA has not found the starting point.

It was amazing to Senator Max Baucus, who held a Senate Field Hearing of the Committee on Environment and Public Works in Libby Thursday. The idea that testing is just being started to establish base-line studies would take until 2010 to complete. "If its going to take three years, why wasn't it started three years ago?", asked Baucus of Assistant EPA administrator Susan Bodine.

The EPA's answer: It wasn't funded. Baucus asked why the EPA had not asked for more money, and why the EPA has asked for less funding this year.

In testimony before the Committee, Lincoln County Commissioner Marianne Roose had questions of her own. What issues are we facing? What has the uncertainty regarding the clean up cost the community? What can, and should, the EPA do to address the communities' need?

Roose said the uncertainty of not knowing what a safe level of asbestos is, and whether the air in Libby is safe to breathe, continues to be forefront in the minds of visitors, organizers of community events, and people looking to relocate to Libby.

"Some.examples include a reduction in participation for our annual Nordic Fjord horse show," said Roose. "Participations have declined coming because they are uncertain if the air is safe and whether the soil in the arena area poses an unsafe condition for their horses," she testified.

Another example is the recruitment efforts at St. John's Hospital, Roose said. "We've been told that there have been several doctors that would have like to relocate here due to our area beauty and lifestyle, but are uncertain whether it is safe to raise their children here," said Roose.

Roose suggested that, "thought should be given to demolishing homes.where the cost of clean-up is substantially more than the value of the house being cleaned.' "It seems that it may be more of a taxpayer advantage to have EPA review the cost effectiveness of clean-up compared to demolition and at the same time be able to offer low interest loans to these homeowners through the Fannie Mae program," she said. An idea interesting to Baucus, but rejected by the EPA.

Lincoln County Health Officer, Dr. Brad Black, told Baucus, "Extensive toxicological studies planned by Region 8 EPA scientists appear to address the main concerns I have in order to better understand the exposure risk due to Libby asbestos," said Black. "In order to remove the current levels of uncertainty," said Black, "I feel we need to pursue research. The planned epidemiological studies are a very important contributor to understanding the exposure risk involved," he said. "It is my role as Lincoln County Health Officer to assure that no residents are at increased risk of developing asbestos induced health problems. The currently planned studies, as delineated by Region 8 EPA, with sufficient funding to completion, should provide the assurance," Black told the Senator.

It was clear the Baucus was not happy with the EPA’s conduct of the Libby program, and it was evident that Baucus will hold the EPA’s feet to the fire. He wants to see this over. Baucus has been the leading champion on the side of Libby since the problem of tremolite from the W.R. Grace mine first came to the surface late in 1999.

Story by KLCB Libby News Radio, www.todaysbestcountryonline.com

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