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Vermiculite stops city water line

| June 9, 2006 12:00 AM

By GWEN ALBERS Western News Reporter

Cleanup crews on Wednesday began removing soil after city workers discovered 2- to 3-inch thick veins of vermiculite in an area near downtown cleaned 5 to 6 years ago.

Officials with the City of Libby and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agreed to meet next week to discuss the cleanup, said Courtney Zamora with the VOLPE Center, a federal agency that provides management services for the EPA's local cleanup.

The city and EPA also will discuss what to do when similar problems arise, Zamora said.

Earlier this week, city workers digging a trench for a new 10-inch water line discovered the vermiculite on property formerly occupied by the export plant belonging to W.R. Grace. It's located between Riverside Park along the Kootenai River and Lee Gehring Field.

The EPA in 1999 started a cleanup in Libby after it was determined that W.R. Grace, from the early 1960s to 1990, exposed the community to tremolite asbestos contaminating vermiculite that was mined and milled here. More than 200 people have died and another 2,000 have been inflicted with the asbestos-related disease.

The multi-million dollar cleanup continues.

Libby Mayor Tony Berget said visited the site after city workers discovered the vermiculite.

"It's a real thick vein," Berget said. "We've had similar things happen, but this is a little more serious."

During the cleanup of that area in 2001 or 2002, crews dug 18 inches deep to remove vermiculite, Zamora said. The veins were found at 18 to 24 inches below the surface, she said.

The area has been roped off.

Zamora did not want to comment on the seriousness of the discovery, but referred questions to the EPA.

The EPA could not be reached.

The city halted the waterline project, which involves replacing a smaller line with a bigger line for serving the Thomas Street area, Berget said.