Confined Space
News and Commentary on Workplace Health & Safety, Labor and Politics

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Libby Asbestos Activist Dies; Residents Consider Buyout

Les Skramstad died Sunday. He was 70.

I often complain about how workplace fatalities get very little press. Every couple of weeks, Tammy and I publish the Weekly Toll, a partial list of workers killed in the workplace. But that list includes only those workers killed in traumatic accidents -- falls, trench collapses, traffic accidents, etc. It almost never includes the almost 1000 Les Skramstads who die of workplace related disease, like mesothelioma, every week.

But Les Skramstad was more than just another occupational disease fatality.
Skramstad had been diagnosed with mesothelioma _ a rare, fast-moving cancer that attacks the lining of the lungs _ about a month ago, his son said. He had several tumors in his stomach and had been previously diagnosed with asbestosis, which has been compared to a slow, constant suffocation.

He was best known as a voice for many of Libby's sickened residents. He lobbied Congress for financial relief for those who could not pay their many medical bills.

The vermiculite, used in a variety of household products, contained tremolite asbestos that was released into the air and carried home on miners' clothing. It is blamed by some health authorities for killing about 200 people and sickening one of every eight Libby residents. Skramstad worked at the mine in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Brent Skramstad said that he has also developed asbestos-related disease, as did his sister and his mother, Norita.

"Hopefully there's somebody who will take his place now," Skramstad said of his father. "Because this is something you never want to be dropped. You want people to be held accountable for it."
In 2005, the Justice Department indicted the W.R. Grace & Co. and seven of its current or former executives and department heads for conspiring to conceal information about the hazardous nature of the company’s asbestos contaminated vermiculite products, obstructing the government’s clean-up efforts, and wire fraud. Approximately 1,200 residents of Libby have been identified as suffering from some kind of asbestos-related disease and over 400 have died.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore Sun's Andrew Schneider, who originally broke the Libby story, reports that despite the tens of millions of dollars spent by the Enfironmental Protection Agency to clean up the town, there no one is sure if the town can really be cleaned up enough to be safe. Some residents are now suggesting that the EPA or Grace buy them out so that they can move to a safer location.
Talk of a buyout took hold after the EPA's inspector general said in a report last month that, because the agency has not determined the safe level of human exposure to the asbestos in Grace's vermiculite, the "EPA cannot be sure that the ongoing Libby cleanup is sufficient to prevent humans from contracting asbestos-related diseases."

The IG report also said the EPA must "fund and execute a comprehensive study to determine the effectiveness of the Libby cleanup" with special attention on the effects of asbestos exposure on children.

Paul Peronard, the EPA emergency coordinator who has been involved in the cleanup since the beginning in 1999, said, "The EPA has no plans for a mass relocation or buyout, although the concept is not off the table. Right now the judgment is the community would be better served by fixing the problem in place."

However, he added, "There is a possibility that our analytical methods are not sensitive enough to measure down low enough to say there is no risk, and with this type of asbestos we cannot say that we ultimately will know what level will be deemed acceptable."
Meanwhile, Grace, which declared bankruptcy in 2001, has been studying the costs and benefits of a buyout.

Related Stories

Labels: ,

Go To My Main Page

Google Groups Subscribe to Confined Space
Browse Archives at

Search WWW Search Confined Space


DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this Blog are my own and do not, in any way, shape or form, reflect or represent the views or policies of my employer. Links to or from other websites of individuals or organizations do not constitute an endorsement of these views.
Looking for Confined Space Safety Information?
Click Here

Search Web Search Confined Space

Greatest Hits

BP Texas City Explosion Stories

2006 Mine Disaster Stories

Popcorn Lung Stories

Speech on Receiving the APHA Lorin Kerr Award
by Jordan Barab, November 9, 2004

Acts of God, Acts of Man," by Jordan Barab, Working USA

Lies, Partisanship Caused Ergo Standard to Crumble, by Jordan Barab, Safety + Health, February 2002

A Week of Death, by Jordan Barab, Hazards, February 5, 2003


March 2003
April 2003
May 2003
June 2003
July 2003
August 2003
September 2003
October 2003
November 2003
December 2003
January 2004
February 2004
March 2004
April 2004
May 2004
June 2004
July 2004
August 2004
September 2004
October 2004
November 2004
December 2004
January 2005
February 2005
March 2005
April 2005
May 2005
June 2005
July 2005
August 2005
September 2005
October 2005
November 2005
December 2005
January 2006
February 2006
March 2006
April 2006
May 2006
June 2006
July 2006
August 2006
September 2006
October 2006
November 2006
December 2006
January 2007

Recent Posts


Koufax Award

For Best Single Issue Blog of 2003 and 2004