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CAG readies for visit from EPA chief

| April 14, 2004 12:00 AM

By Roger Morris, Western News Publisher

A potpourri of concerns emerged from the Community Advisory Group meeting on Thursday night, most related to EPA director Mike Leavitt¹s proposed visit to Libby on May 26.

Concerns ranged from budget cuts for the Libby project to amount of time being allowed to brief Leavitt on the Libby Superfund site.

During his report, Jim Christiansen said he is being given 20-30 minutes to provide Leavitt with background information on the Libby project prior to the director¹s visit to the community.

Several people expressed concerns over that time limit.

³I don¹t think they understand how severe a problem they have here,² said Les Skramstad. ³I was told today by a good and reliable source that Mr. Leavitt doesn¹t want political people because they don¹t want this to become political football.²

³You can bet your bottom dollar that Max Baucus will be here,² Christiansen said.

Baucus, Montana¹s senior senator, withheld support in a senate committee meeting for Leavitt¹s nomination as EPA director, until the former Utah governor agreed to visit Libby.

Christiansen assured the group that a public session with the EPA director is being planned.

³I hope he spends a full day here but I don¹t control that,² Christiansen said.

A woman in the audience pointed out that the spring garden season is here and people are rototilling in dirt mixed with the asbestos-contaminated vermiculite with children playing downwind. ³Thirty minutes is not enough time,² she said.

Another concern voiced, also aimed at Christiansen, was how big a problem to public safety was the fire that destroyed the secondhand store on Mineral Avenue on March 26.

Air samples collected during and after the fire were no detect, Christiansen said.

³Do I think it¹s a health risk to people? No,² he said. ³Do I feel there are asbestos contaminated materials down there that need to be removed? Yes.²

Christiansen said the rubble from the fire is being kept wet, and is surrounded by a safety fence. It will be removed to the special cell at the landfill.

Gayla Benefield expressed concern that the volunteer firefighters might be contaminating their homes and families if they bring their bunker suits home.

³That¹s the same as the men coming in from the mine,² she said.

³It¹s no way as much as the miners,² Christiansen replied quickly.

³But there¹s children in those homes,² Benefield said. ³We don¹t know what the safe level is so why take a chance?²

The on-site coordinator also responded to concerns about vermiculite being left behind at some cleanup sites.

Christiansen said if the EPA tests vermiculite on-site and it¹s found to be no-detect, it could be left untouched.

³We¹ve pushed the boundaries of detection and can¹t measure at lower levels,² he said. ³Nobody has done more than we have at testing soils than we have at Libby. We¹ve been pushing what¹s possible.²

When one CAG member tried pointing out how many toxic asbestos fibers could exist in a gram of soil, Christiansen said, it¹s not as important how many fibers are found but what happens when the soil is disturbed.

³It¹s not going to be perfect and it¹s not going to make people happy,² he said. ³I don¹t have the enough money (to test to a level suggested by people) and if we did, it might not be the right expenditure.²