Libby's lethal numbers

Asbestos disaster drags on.

  • A small sealed bag of vermiculite ore from the Libby mine, once distributed by W.R. Grace as a souvenir.

    Asbestorama at

The environmental health disaster in Libby, Mont. -- where decades of vermiculite mining and milling spread deadly asbestos fibers throughout the community -- continues. In May, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalized a plan to dig up or cap asbestos-laden soil at two more sites where the ore was processed. And thanks to Montana Sen. Max Baucus, D, the nation’s health insurance reform law has begun providing Medicare coverage for Libby victims, regardless of their ages. These updated statistics show why the town of 3,000 is considered "the deadliest Superfund site in the nation’s history."

At least 400 Number of people who have died of asbestos -- related lung ailments linked to the Libby mining, a number that continues to grow.

About 1,500 Number of people -- both current and former residents -- whose chest X-rays reveal "the faint, cloudy shadows of asbestos scarring on their lungs" due to exposure in Libby.

15 to 20 Number of people newly diagnosed each month with illnesses related to Libby asbestos; the illnesses appear to be "particularly ... virulent" and new diagnoses are expected to continue for 10 more years.

$333 million Amount spent on cleaning up the pollution in Libby since the effort began 10 years ago; the total, paid by the most recent mining company, W.R. Grace, and the federal government, continues to grow.

1,250 Number of homes and businesses that have been at least partially cleaned up.

850 Number of homes the EPA plans to revisit to do additional cleanup.

2 Number of asbestos-related funerals attended so far this year by Gayla Benefield, a leading victims’ advocate; her mother died of asbestos-  caused illnesses, and "every adult member of her family more than 47 years old (including Benefield herself) has been diagnosed with asbestos scarring. The latest, her older daughter, got the news in February."

0 Number of people who have been convicted of any criminal charges related to the spread of the asbestos. Source: Associated Press

High Country News Classifieds