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The reality of asbestos contamination in Libby

| August 29, 2007 12:00 AM

To the Editor:

I've been reading the stories about asbestos laden rocks in area creeks. Paul Peronard of the EPA is really trying to minimize this issue. He is quoted saying, "If we're lucky, it's two rocks and we'll remove them and call it done." I've watched Mr. Peronard long enough to know it isn't what he says that is important, it's what he doesn't say. While I can't directly say he is lying, the sin of omission is as deceitful as a direct lie.

Let's look at what he knows about the rocks in the creeks but won't say in public.

In 1996 the State of Montana issued a permit to Kootenai Development Corp. to remove 50,000 cubic yards of syenite riprap from the mine site. The Corps of Engineers bought this riprap to use in Granite and Callahan Creeks to protect the bridges on Highway 2 at both creeks. The state received complaints from activists who were concerned about asbestos contamination during this project, over ten years ago.

Paul knows that the geologic history of the minesite shows that vermiculite formed with asbestos at that site. Seams of both material formed all through the syenite like fingers of lightning in the summer sky.

Paul thinks that Libby amphibole asbestos poses a risk to human health, he just hasn't done a toxicology study or risk assessment to prove it.

In 1999, the first public meeting of note was the bond hearing for the mine site. Public comments were taken at this meeting and activists again brought up the issue of the 50,000 cubic yards hauled out of the mine. The issue has come up at CAG and TAG meetings numerous times. This is all a matter of public record and has never been a secret that EPA, DEQ, COE and every other alphabet soup entity involved wasn't aware of as part of their response to Libby over the last eight years. Why they ignored it for this long is a puzzle.

Paul says he will prioritize this couple of rocks since it presents a "pretty significant" risk to kids playing in the creeks. Then he puts signs up at every bridge except the one of Fifth Street which is the most active swimming hole in the county. And Paul can't even take an authoritive stand on risk, because he hasn't developed the requisite science that was supposed to be put together at the beginning of the project.

Let's put this couple of rocks in a layman's perspective. Fifty thousand cubic yards is more than a couple of rocks. At the last TAG meeting EPA announced that their contractor had moved 22,845 cubic yards of contaminant to the mine site this year. All of those ER trucks you see running helter skelter around this town have so far this year moved less than half the quantity of material that the Corps placed in the creeks. Couple of rocks, indeed.

If you contrast this issue with the contamination at the golf course, you can see why it caught my attention.

Thirty-eight minutes after the dedication of the back nine holes, EPA announces contamination has been "found" on the front nine. Everyone has known for years that vermiculite was used for drainage on the front nine. It didn't stop them from golfing or moving ahead with their property development.

Mr. Peronard wants the public involved, but stresses that the final decisions on cleanup rest with him.

The City of Libby has committed over a million dollars to funding this private corporation's development of their property. Add to that another four million or so to provide utility services for this private land speculation. The return on this investment is only about fifty years away for the city taxpayers.

The Peronard/Berget team is at it again. No one is going to see increased land values from cleaning up the creeks, the only issue there is human health. However, there is potential for the private speculators to make a bundle if the City and EPA spend millions on their private property.

The last time these two teamed up, Grace got away with a cheap, superficial cleanup, the City got a shiny new, windblown desert, and the Berget/Peronard team made out like a bandit. The City lost its economic development engine, its rental revenue, 24,000 square feet of buildings, ability to incubate small business and ability to ensure safety in Riverfront Park. Grace got EPA to finish their project. EPA has returned to the Export Plant seven times, at great cost to the house cleanups. Don't forget, the city council, county commission, school superintendent and a host of public officials supported Mr. Peronard and Mayor Berget on that fiasco. Why do you think Mr. Peronard announced these new issues at a commissioner's meeting?

Thus, the contamination of the front nine becomes front page news, 50,000 cubic yards becomes just a couple of rocks and the air is safe to breathe in Manhattan.

D.C. Orr

Libby