Indexed on: 17 Nov '07Published on: 17 Nov '07Published in: Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology
Libby, Montana is the site of a large vermiculite deposit that was mined between 1920 and 1990 to extract vermiculite for commercial applications such as insulation, gardening products, and construction materials. The Libby vermiculite deposit also contains amphibole minerals including tremolite, actinolite, richterite, and winchite. Historically, Libby mine workers experienced high exposures to amphibole structures, and, as a group, have experienced the health consequences of those occupational exposures. It has been suggested that Libby residents also have been and continue to be exposed to amphibole structures released during the vermiculite mining operations and therefore are at increased risk for disease. The Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry (ATSDR) conducted two epidemiological-type studies of residents living in Libby and the surrounding areas to assess these risks. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) collected and analyzed exposure data in Libby and used those data to project risks of asbestos-associated disease for Libby residents. The EPA has placed the Libby Asbestos Site, which includes the mine and the town of Libby, on its National Priority List of hazardous waste sites in need of clean up. This article presents a review of the exposure studies conducted in Libby and an analysis of health risks based on the data collected in those studies. Libby mine workers have experienced elevated levels of asbestos-associated disease as a consequence of their occupational exposures to amphibole structures. Libby residents' exposures typically are substantially lower than mine workers' historical exposures, and the health risk projections for residents are, accordingly, substantially lower.