The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have announced that they will commence a 5-year, $8 million study aimed at understanding the effects of exposure to lower levels of asbestos in Libby, Montana, the town ravaged by the W.R. Grace vermiculite mine that was contaminated with the toxic mineral.
According to an Associated Press article, the study “will focus on determining whether exposure to lower levels of Libby asbestos is associated with increased risk of lung disease, cancer, chronic illnesses, autoimmune diseases or other health problems.”
The article notes that the initiative will be funded by both the EPA and the Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. “It will include a series of projects and studies, including one that will compare film and digital chest x-rays to determine which is best for assessing the condition of lungs,” said a spokesperson for the EPA.
Libby has greatly suffered the effects of asbestos and experts call the situation there the “worst case of industrial poisoning” in the United States. Already, more than 200 individuals have died of mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases and hundreds more have been sickened by exposure to the toxic mineral. Some worked at Grace’s vermiculite mine. Others were merely community members.