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Memorial pavilion rises on river

| May 10, 2006 12:00 AM

By GWEN ALBERS Western News Reporter

Despite suffering from an all too common life-threatening disease in Libby, Eva Thomson wants to make a difference.

Thomson, who has asbestosis, this weekend helped build a pavilion to honor the 1,200 people with the disease and memorialize the more than 200 who have died. Stiff and sore come Monday, the 67-year-old claims it was worth it.

"It's something that has to be done," said Thomson, whose husband, Dale, died in February 1992 from the asbestos-related mesothelioma after working for 19 years at the vermiculite mine owned by W.R. Grace. Her sons, Bob, 48, and Darrell, 44, also are infected with the mine's asbestos.

"One is serious, and the other is not good," said Thomson.

Formed in 2000, the Community Asbestos Memorial Project committee had about 10 volunteers on Saturday and Sunday work on the pavilion in Riverside Park. A dedication set for Sunday, May 28, at 7:30 p.m. will include a candle-light vigil, annual reading of names and personal dedications.

W.R. Grace faces a federal criminal trial for allegedly knowing vermiculite deposits in Libby were contaminated with a form of asbestos called tremolite. Asbestos is regulated under the Clean Air Act as a hazardous air pollutant.

Studies have shown that exposure to asbestos can cause life-threatening diseases, including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1999 responded to reports of asbestos contamination in and around Libby and declared this a Superfund site. More than $55 million has been spent so far on cleanup.

That's a far cry from what will be spent on the pavilion, funded by the City of Libby and donations.

Troy contractor Steve Smith, who one year ago moved here from Los Angeles, offered his services.

"He dedicated his whole weekend out there," said Helen Clarke, a member of CAMP.

"He donated tools, generators and his knowledge," added Gary Swenson, another member of CAMP. "He really was a life saver."

"We got all the trusses up," continued Swenson, who along with three of his four siblings suffers from the asbestos disease.

"We lived upwind from the expansion plant to our neighborhood," he said about growing up in the 1950s on West Forest Street.

Victim LaRoy Billadeau also helped.

"I have the asbestos and my father died from it," Billadeau said. "It's just something that really needs to be done."

Billadeau takes $900 worth of medicine a month to fight the disease, but never worked in the mine. Most days he's exhausted. At 71, he only has about half the use of his lungs.

"I played in piles of the stuff when I was a kid, just like most other kids around here," Billadeau said.

Ninety-year-old Roy Cook, who has the disease and has lived here since 1965, also showed.

"He was cute," Clarke said. "He just came by and thought he we might need someone to supervise."

Others helping included Vernon Riley, Corky and Chris Pape, Lee Van Alstine, Roger Morris, Gary Roberts and Dave Benefield.

CAMP is unsure about its next work day for the pavilion, but needs money to landscape and do other work in the area. Anyone interested in making a donation may call Swenson at 293-7983 or Clarke at 291-3329.