Saturday, June 03, 2023

New status give EPA more authority with cleanups

by Canda Harbaugh & Western News
| June 25, 2009 12:00 AM

Along with the run-of-the-mill line of questioning about the Superfund process, the Environmental Protection Agency at Monday’s public meeting answered questions about the Libby area’s public health emergency status.

“It gives more authorities to clean up products that cause the exposure,” said Matt Cohn, chief of Superfund attorneys. “EPA has the authority to clean up anything it needs to fully clean up a property.”  

Superfund laws have been interpreted to require the cleanup of waste, but not products that contain the waste, such as Zonolite insulation within walls and attics.

The previous administration interpreted that the EPA had the authority to clean up products without the declaration, said Carol Campbell, office director for ecosystem protection and remediation for Region 8, but the current administration does not.

Attendees were also concerned about how the public health emergency declaration would support health care for those suffering from asbestos-related diseases.

Tom Morris of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spoke of the $6 million that is anticipated to fund health care through the next two years.

“The grant is due today and it will be available in August,” Morris said.

A consortium of Libby health-care providers worked together to write a proposal for the funds. Out of the $6 million, $2 million will go toward screening. The remaining $4 million – $2 million for each year – will supplement health care for those diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases.

Tanis Hernandez, outreach coordinator with the Center for Asbestos Related Disease, wrote the grant proposal. She explained at the meeting that the $4 million will go to the Asbestos-Related Diseases Network and the $2 million will go to the Libby Asbestos Medical Plan.

LAMP provides screening for those who have lived in the Libby area for six months, Hernandez said, regardless of where they live now. Funding from both programs is also not limited to local health-care providers.

Attendees also voiced concern at the meeting over properties that were left with visible vermiculite from earlier cleanups.

“The impact of the public health emergency will probably be a good thing for the health side,” said attendee Philip Erquiaga, “but will this public health emergency address those materials that have been left behind?”

Campbell responded, “Where we need to re-visit, we will.”

Brad Black, Lincoln County health officer and CARD clinic physician, said that current science reveals the dangers of leaving visible vermiculite in homes.

Black demonstrated concern for homeowners who are unaware that, though their property was cleaned, it is still not safe.

“Where is the communication with the homeowners?” he asked.

In other news from Monday’s meeting:

• The tentative date to start cleanup on the front nine holes at the Cabinet View Country Club is Aug. 17, said Mike Cirian, EPA field leader in Libby.

• The old export plant and screening plant sites should each have a proposed cleanup plan by September, Cirian reported. The EPA also plans to complete a feasibility study and issue a proposed cleanup plan for the former Stimson Lumber Co. property by fall of 2010.

• As of the last week, 23 properties had been cleaned up for the year, with the overall number to date at 1,126. Cirian said that work now being done is on bigger properties, which has led to a slower cleanup rate.

• Cirian said the EPA hopes to conduct activity-based sampling at Libby school sites from the end of July and possibly through September.