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LATAG quizzing EPA on Superfund cleanup

| May 17, 2006 12:00 AM

By ROGER MORRIS Western News Publisher

The EPA is responding to recent requests from the Libby Area Technical Assistance Group and deputy regional administrator Max Dodson is scheduling a town hall style community meeting on June 14, according to discussion Thursday at the Community Advisory Group meeting.

LATAG made several requests of the EPA in a pair of letters within the last month followed by a teleconference call with Dodson.

"I think we've made a lot of progress recently working with the EPA," said LATAG technical adviser Gerry Henningsen, "on things that will be identified in the cleanup plan."

Among the things requested by LATAG is for the EPA to not issue a final record of decision or ROD on the proposed cleanup plan for the Superfund site based on questions of toxicity, cleanup protocols and implementation of the latest science.

LeRoy Thom, a member of LATAG, CAG and the Center for Asbestos Related Disease board of directors, said it was his understanding that the science was lagging behind the cleanup activities.

"In my mind it is a no-brainer to go out and do this right," he said. "We need to insure a proper cleanup because ultimately W.R. Grace is going to have to pay for it."

The vermiculite, contaminated by asbestos, was mined and milled by W.R. Grace in the Libby area since the early 1960s. Grace shutdown the mine and milling facilites in 1990, leaving behind the contamination.

Also, LATAG has asked the EPA to bring in the best scientific team possible to confirm issue of toxicity and safety, Henningsen said.

"This Superfund site is one of the few, if not the only one, with non-occupational deaths," he said.

Dr. Brad Black, county health officer and CARD director, said he thought the science was progressing with the cleanup.

"We have some missing gaps and we need answers," he said. "We need to get on board and not be antagonistic with the EPA but ask them to bring on the resources."

LATAG is also asking the EPA to review the comfort and completion letters given\ to property owner after their property is cleaned. There are questions regarding the wording on how clean the properties are and who holds the liability for future claims.

"We've also asked Region 8 to educate the community better," Henningsen said. "We've asked them to bring in outside speakers from other communities who feel like the cleanup benefited their communities."

EPA representatives Mike Cirian and Peggy Churchill said the agency is already reacting to the requests. Wendy O'Brien has been assigned as full-time toxicologist for the project and the agency is bringing in more help, Cirian said.

"The EPA has heard your request and is committed to looking at the language in the (comfort) letters," Churchill said.

"It's a good response, Henningsen said. "Things are improving a lot. It will give you guys a much better product in terms of the cleanup plan or ROD."

In other business, Churchill reported that 38 projects have been completed this year bringing the total to 616 since the Superfund cleanup began.

The cleanup plan for Libby is scheduled to be completed and available for comment by Dec. 31, Churchill said. The ROD will be released sometime in 2007.