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Nightline crew in town

| August 12, 2005 12:00 AM

By STEVE KADEL Western News Reporter

A four-person crew from the ABC news program Nightline arrived in Libby on Monday to prepare a report on the city's asbestos situation.

Correspondent Dave Maresh said it will update a Prime Time Live program that aired in 2000 on the topic.

He said the topics being scrutinized include the W.R. Grace indictments, the failure of the federal Environmental Protection Agency to declare a public health threat, what's been learned from long-term lung screening, and asbestos legislation pending in Congress.

Maresh said the legislation "would essentially be a bail-out for W.R. Grace."

Maresh, producer Phil Maravilla, cameraman Bob Tews and soundman Robert Lutz had interviews with asbestosis victim Gayla Benefield and others, Mayor Tony Berget, Dr. Brad Black and was to attend a Community Advisory Group meeting.

During an interview with Black at the CARD center, Maresh sought to find the right context for the asbestos tragedy.

"This really is a death warrant?" he asked. "It wraps the lung in a blanket and suffocates it?"

Black showed the lung X-ray of a former Libby man who died of asbestosis complications last year.

"He was a friend of mine, and had very advanced lung disease," Black said. He had lost more than half of his lung capacity."

The doctor described how scarring constricts the lung, making breathing more and more difficult over time.

"The heart has to pump blood through less vessels and eventually the heart fails," Black said. "It's like wearing a tight jacket that has no movement to it. It's very uncomfortable."

As taping for the segment progressed at the CARD clinic, Black stopped Maresh at one point to correct the wording of a question. Asbestos contained in the vermiculite is the danger, he said.

"The best way to refer to it is 'the asbestos-related vermiculite,'" Black said before beginning that interview segment again.

Maresh said most pieces air on Nightline more quickly after taping than will the Libby report. That's due to a scheduling delay involving one of the crew members.

Nightline staff members will inform those they've interviewed of the exact date the piece will be shown. Maresh promised to contact the Western News so readers can be alerted beforehand.