By the time the mine was bought by W.R. Grace in 1963, 80% of the world’s vermiculite was manufactured in Libby.
In 1919, vermiculite—a specific type of asbestos mineral which is used for construction, heat proofing, and a number of other applications— was discovered in the mountains near Libby, Montana. Once discovered, mining of vermiculite became core to the town’s economy.
It soon became known to the mine’s owners that a byproduct of the vermiculite in this specific mine contained asbestos. The vermiculite was used in construction projects throughout town, and miners would come home covered in the asbestos-riddled dust, exposing their families. This caused very high rates of exposure in Libby and eventually led to 10% of the town population dying from asbestos exposure-related diseases.
On June 17th, 2009, the EPA declared this a public health emergency and allocated $130 million for cleanup and medical assistance. In 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act extended medicare benefits to those impacted by the Libby asbestos disaster.
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