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New technical adviser appointed to Libby

by Brandon RobertsWestern News
| January 12, 2009 11:00 PM

Filling a position that had been vacant for more than a year, the Technical Advisory Group recently appointed Terry Spear to the post of technical adviser.

Spear is a tenured professor at Montana Tech in Butte and head of the Safety, Health and Industrial Hygiene Department.

Libby and asbestos are not new subjects for Spear, who first became acquainted with the area in 1996 when assisting with the litigation of W.R. Grace. More recently he completed a study with Tony Ward on asbestos levels in tree bark around the old mine site north of town.

Spear said that before his approval, the Environmental Protection Agency took a close look at the work he had previously done in Libby, as well as his prior court testimony, before determining there was no conflict of interest. 

“My understanding is that I am to assist TAG, interpreting the EPA’s publications and documents, including pre-existing work and planned studies,” Spear said. “Mainly giving the group my take on the scientific documents and putting it into layman’s terms. … My basic training is in public health. From that standpoint it is an interesting role for me to be in and I look forward to it.”

Mike Noble, TAG chairman, said they unofficially lost their last adviser in November 2006.

“Without a TA we were shooting in the dark,” Noble said. “If you don’t have the expertise in all of this, it is tough. Terry brings that to light here, he brings the knowledge. We are ecstatic about bringing him on.”

Spear returned the paperwork and Noble must now gather the appropriate signatures to make the contract official.

“Terry brings a lot of wisdom into this whole program,” Noble said. “He is a pretty straight shooter and we are impressed with him.”

Spear said Libby’s asbestos problems are unique.

“The TAG has been hurting without a TA and I think the community will be well served by him,” said Ted Linnert, community involvement coordinator with the EPA.

“Terry has experience with asbestos in Libby,” Linnert said. “He is familiar with the general situation, has good credentials and I am hoping for the best.”

Spear’s responsibilities will begin at either the February or March monthly TAG meeting held at the Flathead Valley Community College campus in Libby.

Spear has a bachelor’s degree in microbiology from the University of Montana, and a master’s and doctorate in industrial hygiene from the University of Minnesota. He has been part of the Montana Tech faculty since 1983.