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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks Announcing Assistance for Libby, Montana, As Prepared

06/17/2009
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As prepared for delivery.

Thank you to Senator Baucus for your leadership on this issue which has greatly impacted the lives of so many people living in Libby and Troy, Montana for so many years.

I also want to thank Secretary Sibelius for joining this partnership and for working to get needed medical care to the residents of Lincoln County, as well as Senator Tester for his support on behalf of the people of the Libby and Troy communities.

We’re here today because of a unique public health tragedy that has affected the people of Libby and Troy, Montana – a toxic legacy of decades of mining operations that contaminated these towns and put its residents at grave risk.

Investigations have found hundreds of cases of asbestos-related disease in this relatively small community. For decades, the disease and death rate from asbestosis in the Libby area was staggeringly higher than the national average.

And that was not limited to vermiculite-facility workers or their families, but spread throughout the population. Exposure came through extensive use of vermiculite insulation in local homes, as well as the use of mine wastes and other asbestos-containing materials as fill for driveways, gardens, and playgrounds.

The area also sits deep in a valley below surrounding mountains. Exposure was magnified by temperature inversions and weather patterns that concentrated microscopic asbestos in the atmosphere. The towns’ distance and local economic challenges also reduced early detection and treatment of asbestos-related disease.

For years, Libby and Troy residents have been at high risk for lung cancer, asbestosis and other serious, often fatal respiratory diseases, and had little outside support to address the full scope of what they were facing.

During my confirmation hearing, Senator Baucus asked us to re-examine the problems facing Libby and Troy. Based on the best science and a re-evaluation of the situation on the ground, we determined that we needed to step up our efforts to protect the people in Libby and Troy.

We are determining, for the first time in EPA history, that under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act – or CERCLA – the release of asbestos in the area constitutes a public health emergency. This determination should be a reminder of the serious consequences of mismanaging hazardous materials, and the essential role of laws like CERCLA in protecting our communities.

While EPA has been conducting a cleanup of Libby for several years, we are recommitting to getting the job done. Our Superfund program is signing an action memo to assure the financial resources needed for the cleanup. We will be considering cleaning more properties based on data we are currently analyzing. And we have a comprehensive program of risk assessment and research underway to assure that the cleanup is fully protective.

There are many towns and cities across the US with vermiculite insulation in their homes and commercial buildings. EPA recommends that the insulation be left in place and undisturbed and we don't believe cleanup action on vermiculite insulation is needed outside of Libby or Troy at this time.

However, health concerns and precautions for minimizing exposure should be better understood by the public. Today, EPA is launching a national educational program focused on vermiculite insulation to assure the continued safety of all Americans.

Today’s determination applies to Libby and Troy, Montana, and will help us address the unique threats facing these communities. It should reassure the people living in Libby and Troy – or anyone with loved ones in the area – that we are on the job.

On June 22nd, in less than a week, we will be hosting a public meeting for the communities where they can meet with Carol Campbell, Assistant Regional Administrator for Ecosystem Protection and Remediation, along with members of the EPA Libby Site Team to receive details and ask questions about EPA's Superfund cleanup activities.

We are here to help – and create a long and prosperous future for this community. Thank you.