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Doctor calls for Libby unity

| September 17, 2004 12:00 AM

By Roger Morris,Western News Publisher

If Libby wants to be home to an internationally known asbestos research center it¹s going to have to learn to work together, said one of the top researchers in the field during a luncheon on Tuesday.

³The community must show a united face and come together,² said Dr. James Lockey, chairman of the Committee for Asbestos Research, which completed its third conference in Libby on Tuesday.

What has happened in Libby has been tragic but the community has an opportunity to turn it into a positive both economically and for the benefit of people suffering from asbestos-related disease, said Lockey, who is the director of the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Division of the University of Cincinnati.

³It¹s somewhat of a tragic situation here in Libby and people here have had to and will continue to deal with it,² Lockey continued. ³It is a unique opportunity to make it a positive. We need to learn what happened here and we need to learn how to avoid it happening in the future.²

An asbestos research center in Libby is the key to that opportunity, he said.

³Whether it works or not in this community is based on whether the community can pull together,² Lockey said.

³For it to work, CARD has to build a working relationship with the hospital and build a working relationship with other community providers as well as the University of Montana,² the doctor said.

Initially CARD was under the umbrella of St. John¹s Lutheran Hospital

but was cut loose by the hospital board of directors. In recent months, while CARD has been seeking funding from the Libby Area Development company, the hospital has not taken a position either supporting or opposing the research proposal.

CARD has had some disagreements with the University of Montana researchers, some out of concern for activities shifting to Missoula rather than being based in Libby. Members of the CARD board of directors have been meeting with university researchers to clarify the positions and roles of each entity.

³There really is no other model for this to happen in the U.S.,² Lockey said. ³What usually happens is one university guards such a population carefully.²

Lockey and seven or eight other nationally known researchers volunteered to work with CARD as consultants more than a year ago to help establish a research center in Libby. The group held its first conference in Libby in July 2003 and met again in January 2004 before reconvening for a third meeting on Monday

³If it works, it will become known as the Libby model,² he said.

Mike Giesey, president of the CARD board of director said the first two conferences involving the CFAR were to confirm the belief that Libby had ³a unique asbestos fiber causing unique health problem.²

CARD was looking at the establishment of a research center and needed help mapping a development plan, Giesey said.

CARD had applied for a $250,000 grant in July as start-up money for the research center. The money would be used to purchase technology to make the existing data base of Libby asbestos victims available to researchers. Money would also be used to purchase equipment to establish a tissue bank.

LADC has had repeated questions requiring research and delaying action on the original request.

In the middle of the application process for a grant, LADC decided to offer loans only since the $8 million in economic development money was dwindling. Shortly afterward, LADC forgave a $110,829 loan to Kootenai Winter Sports, operators of Turner Mountain Ski Area, and gave them a $200,000 grant to construct a ski lodge at the base of the mountain.

CARD supporters are now requesting a loan and were to meet Wednesday with LADC but the meeting was cancelled because the economic development committee didn¹t have a quorem. Lockey had been planning on attending that meeting.

Giesey said local support is critical to show foundations and federal agencies that there is local support for a research center in Libby.

The LADC has rescheduled its meeting to Wednesday, Sept. 22, at 7 p.m. in the Memorial Center.

Lockey is no stranger to Libby or tremolite asbestos. His study of workers at a Marysville, Ohio, agricultural company in the mid-1980s demonstrated adverse pulmonary effects associated with asbestos-contaminated vermiculite from Libby.

Other doctors involved in the CFAR conferences are:

Dr. Alan Whitehouse, a board-certified pulmonologist from Spokane for the past 33 years, who has treated more than 400 Libby asbestos victims; Dr. Aubrey Miller, senior medical officer and regional toxicologist for EPA Region 8; Dr. Andrij Holian, director of the Center for Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Montana, who for the past two years has been involved in hereditary research into the biologic effects of Libby asbestos; Dr. Elizabeth Putnam, of the University of Montana, who is currently studying the role of genetic determinants in the sensitivity of individual populations to environmental insults; Dr. Stephen M. Levin, co-director for the World Trade Center Worker and Volunteer Medical Screening Program and is associate professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine specializing in environmental and occupational medicine.; Dr. Ann F. Cook and Dr. Helen Hoas, associate professors of psychology with the National Rural Bioethics Project at the University of Montana.; Dr. Vikas Kapil, medical officer with the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry¹s Division of Health Sciences; and Dr. Mike Spence, director of the Montana Asbestos Screening and Surveillance Activity project based in Libby.