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EPA offers help with unplanned vermiculite encounters

| January 17, 2007 11:00 PM

By BRENT SHRUM Western News Editor

A program under development by the Environmental Protection Agency is providing emergency assistance to area residents faced with unplanned encounters with asbestos-contaminated vermiculite.

Help is also available at no cost to homeowners planning remodeling projects that might lead to exposure to vermiculite, said local EPA project manager Mike Cirian.

"We'll get the material out of there and get it sealed up or cleaned up, whatever is appropriate for what they're doing," Cirian said.

Since Cirian began piloting the program in November, he has responded to several emergency calls. They include an incident in which "somebody busted a hole in the back wall" at the Mint Bar, a vermiculite spill from a wall during a maintenance project at the county annex building, the discovery of traces of vermiculite insulation around the edges of an attic in a private residence, and two house fires.

At the Mint, vermiculite that spilled into the parking lot was removed, and tests will be taken in the spring to determine if more cleanup is necessary, Cirian said.

The spill at the county annex occurred when a phone line was pulled out of a wall.

"That was the only spot in the whole building that had any (vermiculite)," Cirian said. "I don't know why it was in that 2-foot by 3-foot area."

The vermiculite found in the attic came as a surprise to the home owner. The house wasn't on the EPA's cleanup list, but it is now, Cirian said.

"I think at some time there was vermiculite up there and they sucked it up or removed it," he said.

In the case of the two fires, Cirian was called in to help the fire department with decontamination procedures. He's also providing assistance to the property owner and insurance company in one of the incidents.

The pilot program is helping define what will become a permanent "environmental resource specialist" position, Cirian said. Details such as the necessary budget, training and equipment are still being worked out.

"You could put down a hundred things that are going to happen and there will be 20 more that you didn't even plan for," he said.

Anyone unexpectedly encountering vermiculite can contact Cirian at the EPA office in Libby at 293-6194. People planning remodeling projects that could lead to contact with vermiculite should call as early as possible in the planning process, Cirian said.

"Our goal is to make this as painless and simple as we can, but it does take time," he said.