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EPA schedules progress meeting

| October 5, 2005 12:00 AM

The Environmental Protection Agency will hold a public meeting from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 11, at the Memorial Center to bring area residents up to date on the progress of the agency's Superfund cleanup operations in Libby.

The agency has been involved in the cleanup of asbestos contamination associated with the former W.R. Grace vermiculite mine, which closed in 1990, since 1999. Next week's meeting will include a brief history of the site and major milestones, an explanation of the EPA's cleanup strategy, discussion of the agency's focus on involving and informing the community, and a preview of activities for the coming year.

The meeting will explain the EPA's shift from a short-term emergency response to a long-term remedial response, said agency community involvement coordinator Ted Linnert. The initial emergency response focused on the cleanup of areas that posed the most direct risk to the public, such as the tracks at Libby High School, where material from the vermiculite mine was once used as surfacing material. The remedial cleanup includes numerous individual homes where vermiculite was used as insulation.

"Vermiculite insulation in an attic may not be as critical as the track where kids were running on every day," Linnert said.

The meeting will be led by project manager Jim Christiansen, and the agency's new Libby-based project manager, Jim Cirian, will be introduced. EPA assistant regional administrator Max Dodson is also scheduled to attend. Area residents will have a rare opportunity to express their concerns and direct their questions to a high-ranking agency official with the authority to make decisions, Linnert said.

The EPA's work toward drafting a record of decision for the Libby site will also be discussed. The agency is currently developing a remedial investigation/feasibility study that will lead to the record of decision.

The remedial investigation/feasibility study will provide information about various aspects of the cleanup and include sampling results from potential exposure pathways such as people mowing lawns or children crawling on carpets. It will also include sampling results from homes that have already been cleaned and cover the demolition of contaminated structures.

The remedial investigation/feasibility study will be used in the development of a plan with a preferred alternative for cleanup. The plan will be made available for public comment, which will be vital to the final record of decision, Linnert said.

"Community buy-in for the preferred alternative is very important to it," he said. "It is one of the nine criteria that must be met by whatever alternative is chosen."

Following the public comment period, the EPA will issue the record of decision.

The final document is expected to be completed next spring.