Monday, February 16, 2004

EPA Cuts Funding For Cleanup of Asbestos-Contaminated Libby, MT

We have frequently mentioned the tragedy of Libby, Montana, the town contaminated with asbestos-laden wastes from vermiculite mined by the Grace Corporation.
When Grace started losing lawsuits filed by sick residents, the corporation spun off its profitable assets and went bankrupt in 2001, leaving the town and taxpayers holding the bag.

The death toll is 200 so far in Libby, and nearly 2,000 locals have been diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases. Residents fear that the longer the cleanup takes, the more people will take ill.

More than 180 residential and commercial properties have been cleaned, including the mine's old processing plants and the school track. But this budget year, the Bush administration gave the Libby cleanup $4 million less than the $19 million dispersed the year before and $6 million less than the local EPA requested. That means the families of Libby will remain at potential risk -- not for five more years as originally promised, but for as many as 12, residents say.
And to add insult to injury,
In another slap at Libby last month, cleanup workers learned at 4 in the afternoon that their hourly wages would be cut starting the next day, from a minimum of $24 to $14. With workers complaining, the EPA now is considering raising their pay back to $19 an hour. Still, residents are afraid the pay cut will damage morale and undermine the quality of the cleanup.

At the peak of the cleanup last summer, 120 people were working for EPA contractors in Libby, and these were some of the best jobs in the economically depressed town.

“We have a very dedicated workforce,” Sullivan says. “These are people who really give a hoot. Why is the EPA hurting their pride?”
If you somehow missed the Libby story, check here, here and here.