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Libby Community Advisory Group
Meeting Summary

July 12, 2001
Introductions

Gerald Mueller, members of the Libby Community Advisory Group (CAG), and guests present introduced themselves. A list of the members in attendance and guests is attached below as Appendix 1.

Agenda

Mr. Mueller reviewed an agenda for this meeting including the following topics:

EPA Inspector General's Report

EPA Inspector General Nikki Tinsley summarized the role of the Inspector General (IG), the audit process used to prepare her report on Libby, and the report conclusions and recommendations. She also discussed her response to the CAG's April 9, 2001 letter to her.

IG Role

The IG is appointed by the President but is also a civil service position rather than a political appointee. The IG is legally independent of EPA and has reporting responsibility to both EPA and the Congress. The IG's mission is to help EPA carry out its programs by identifying and making recommendations to eliminate fraud, waste, and abuse. The IG can conduct criminal investigations of fraudulent use of agency funds. Audits can be initiated by the IG or by requests from Congressional committees, individual members of Congress, or by EPA. The IG issues recommendations, but lacks the authority to direct any agency action.

Libby IG Report Process

For the Libby report, IG auditors began work in July 2000 and interviewed EPA personnel in the DC headquarters, Region 8, and Montana offices as well as people from Libby, the AFLCIO, and the Montana Congressional delegation. Auditors also coordinated with their counter parts from the US Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services and the Consumer Products Safety Administration. After a draft report was written it was given to EPA, for its review and comment. The report will then be revised and a final version issued. EPA's response was provided only last week, so the IG has not had time to revise the draft report.

Report Conclusions and Recommendations

Ms. Tinsley handed out copies of the report executive summary, one of which is included below as Appendix 2. She stated that the IG investigation concluded that EPA and other federal officials new of the problems at Libby for years, but no action was taken. While EPA's decision process regarding Libby was not documented, the IG found that the main reason for the inaction was a lack of communication within EPA and with other agencies. The report executive summary also states that EPA did not place emphasis on dealing with asbestos-contaminated vermiculite due to funding constraints and competing priorities. She also stated that the change of political administrations also affected agency priorities. Concerning recommendations, Ms. Tinsley said that the report recommends that EPA take action to address the communication problem and to increase partnership efforts with other agencies. She also noted that the executive summary set forth specific recommendations to remove the barriers that hindered EPA actions regarding Libby, including a broad recommendation for increased documentation and improved record keeping.

CAG Letter

Ms. Tinsley stated that in its April 9 letter, the CAG asked about the connection between W.R. Grace and EPA. She said that her office's audit of EPA was not designed to look at this question for two reasons. First, her office has no authority to audit W.R. Grace. Second, the audit was designed to identify actions that might be taken to prevent a repeat of EPA's problems at Libby in the future. She noted, however, that the audit found no evidence of the W.R. Grace influence effecting EPA's actions. [Webmaster note - Ms. Tinsley´s June 14, 2001 letter to Don Wilkins/ Community Advisory Group is included as Appendix 3.]

EPA Response to IG Report

Steve Luftig, Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, and Bill Sanders, Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA's Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxic Substances, summarized EPA's response to the IG's Libby report. Mr. Luftig stated that nationwide there are 1,500 mining related Superfund sites. EPA has created a"blue ribbon" team to look for solutions to mining problems, including those at Libby. EPA has identified 244 locations in addition to Libby with exposure to vermiculite, 17 of which require follow-up. One location in Minneapolis was a W.R. Grace expansion site which warrants cleanup. This site is larger than the similar facility in Libby. W.R. Grace will conduct the cleanup of this facility. EPA is also working with ATSDR to track health related statistics to identify locations with environmental problems.

Mr. Sanders reported on behalf of the EPA Air Office. He stated that one of the IG's recommendations asked EPA to consider regulation of asbestos in ambient air under the Clean Air Act. Such a standard already exists. He said that his agency is considering the need for regulation of products containing vermiculite and asbestos.

CAG Member Question - Does the IG have subpoena power over the federal executive branch to explore the interaction of W.R. Grace with EPA?

Answer by Nikki Tinsley - No. The EPA IG has no authority over W.R. Grace or the regulated community.

CAG Member Comment - We will need a Congressional hearing to get to W.R. Grace documents.

Audience Member Question - Does EPA have a responsibility to pass information to private companies?

Answer - Yes.

Audience Member Comment - Railroad officials have stated that in 1990 EPA told them that it was safe to ship vermiculite in hopper cars. Would there be documentation of EPA communication with the railroad?

Answer - It is hard to judge whether documentation exists. Normally, if a lawyer responded in writing, then documentation would exist. There may not be a record of telephone communications.

Audience Member Comment - We need to get to the bottom of how the problem at Libby happened. You say you don't have authority. What agency does?

Answer - If you are referring to criminal activity by W.R. Grace, then the agency with authority would be the FBI.

CAG Member Question - Can our experience in Libby happen again?

Answer by Nikki Tinsley - We have talked with EPA about establishing the kind of communication system that would prevent repetition. Without a good system, what happened in Libby may happen again.

Comment by Bill Sanders - The honest answer is that the problem is not fixed. We have established a blue ribbon panel involving the EPA Air, Superfund, Toxics, and Drinking Water Programs, and well as OSHA and the Consumer Products Safety Administration. We are trying to understand what other problems are out there such as durable fibers and fiber shards and fragments. We want the workings of the blue ribbon panel to be transparent to citizens.

CAG Member Comment - After every election cycle, politicians pay back their constituents. Politicians control agencies. Agencies operate under different standards and fail to communicate with each other. Meanwhile workers get poisoned over 20 to 30 year periods.

Response - EPA does review and offer comments to other agencies such as OSHA when they propose standards.

CAG Member Comment - After 20 years of study, OSHA recently promulgated rules to prevent repetitive motion injuries. Congress repealed them.

Audience Member Comment - I keep hearing that everybody passes the buck, and nothing can be done. Somebody needs to do something.

Response by Jack McGraw - EPA has responded to a situation in Region 8 when OSHA failed to do so.

CAG Member Comment - The system is broken and needs fixing. American lives are on the line.

Comment by Nikki Tinsley - What makes change is the public pushing back. Keep pushing and don't let it go.

CAG Member Comment - The IG report states that EPA fails to document its decisions. I work in Head Start. We have to document our actions or lose our grant. EPA should shoulder its burden and carry out its mission.

CAG Member Comment - You said that the IG report did not investigate W.R. Grace.

Response by Ms. Tinsley - If we had seen a link between EPA's actions and W.R. Grace, we would have.

CAG Member Comment - Your report notes that workers stated that mine inspections were not conducted on a surprise basis as they were supposed to be. W.R. Grace knew when inspections would take place and actions were routinely taken to clean up before inspections took place.

Response by Ms. Tinsley - I will talk with the Department of Labor Inspector General about this.

CAG Member Question - It was known in 1980-83 that the vermiculite contained tremolite asbestos. Who was responsible for inspecting the ball fields and Rain Tree Nursery which were build on former W.R. Grace export and screening plant sites?

Response - If the nursery closed today, there would be no inspection of the property unless EPA received notification under the Superfund law.

Audience Member Question - W.R. Grace is thumbing its nose at the agencies.

Response - EPA sued W.R. Grace to obtain access to the mine for disposal, and we intend to sue W.R. Grace to recover our clean-up costs.

CAG Member Comment - We appreciate the EPA folks from Washington DC and Denver taking the time to come to this meeting.

Superfund and National Priority Listing

Steve Luftig reported on EPA's Superfund activities in Libby and on National Priority Listing (NPL). In the eighteen months or so since EPA came to Libby, EPA has expended about $30 million. Clean up of the export and screening plant sites is nearing completion and the risk assessment and phase 2 of the residential sampling is well underway. Cleanup is also being conducted at Libby schools. Some 244 vermiculite sites nation-wide have been identified. In direct response to CAG concerns, a message has been added to the EPA web site warning people not to disturb vermiculite insulation and that if you are remodeling to hire a professional asbestos abatement contractor to do so. Normally, emergency responses are limited to one year and $2 million. EPA activities in Libby have gone way beyond these time and funding levels.

As the emergency response is completed, EPA is considering adding Libby to the NPL to ensure funding for long-term cleanup. Under the Superfund law, for listing to occur, the State will have to pay 10% of the cleanup costs and agree to take care of long-term operational costs. An example of the latter is overseeing an isolation cell containing asbestos contaminated materials in perpetuity. In 70% of the Superfund cases, private companies cleanup the site under the direction of state and/or local agencies. EPA will continue to seek payment for the Libby cleanup from W.R. Grace.

Mr. Luftig also stated that earlier in the day, a group of EPA officials met with members of the Libby business community including CAG members. Some business people are concerned that including Libby on the NPL would adversely affect property values, and that the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and Veterans Administration (VA) would cease making mortgage loans in Libby. EPA will meet with both mortgage agencies to discuss their loan practices. Loan practices should be affected by contamination not an NPL listing.

CAG Member Question - Are you aware of where the State could get funds for its 10% share?

Answer - We have not yet had a meeting with the State to find out.

CAG Member Question - With whom in the State would EPA talk about funding?

Answer - DEQ.

Comment By DEQ's Sandy Olsen - The funding discussion will take place with the Governor's Office, DEQ, and EPA.

CAG Member Question - Is there a precedent for designating the mine as an NPL site while continuing the emergency cleanup in the City?

Answer - Emergency cleanups normally last only a year. Longer term actions normally require other, i.e. NPL, funding. After an NPL listing and selection of a remedy, funding is set aside to pay for the remedy.

CAG Member Question - What if there was an assurance that money would be available for the emergency response cleanup in the City?

Answer - Long-term funding is not provided through the Emergency Response Program. The mine cleanup is different than the town cleanup. Even if it is an NPL site, EPA will proceed with the town cleanup as rapidly as possible. NPL funds are needed for a methodical investigation of residential yards.

CAG Member Question - What if the State can't or won't provide its 10% share?

Answer - No state has failed to meet its cost share responsibility in the 21 years of the Superfund Program.

CAG Member Question - Do you update the NPL biannually?

Answer - The list is updated three or four times a year. The next update will occur this fall. The listing process includes an EPA proposal, comments on the proposal, EPA responses to the comments, and a listing decision.

CAG Member Question - And the governor has the right to say yes or no?

Answer - It is EPA policy to ask for the governor's concurrence. EPA has the authority to add a site to the NPL on its own, but the state must still provide the 10% cost share. EPA has listed a site without a governor's concurrence only once.

CAG Member Question - Can EPA waive the 10% cost share?

Answer - No. It is a statutory requirement.

CAG Member Question - What makes a cleanup long-term, low contamination levels or a long latency period?

Answer - The contamination level and not the latency period is the relevant consideration. High levels of contamination that pose a direct and immediate threat to public health are addressed through an emergency cleanup. Low contamination levels pose a chronic risk and are appropriate for long-term NPL cleanup.

CAG Member Question - Do homes qualify for an emergency cleanup?

Answer - Some do. We have found piles of vermiculite at some homes that have merited immediate action. When we find vermiculite or ore piles we remove them. The question for the community is, do we wait until the piles are discovered or for someone to dig a swimming pool and hits vermiculite and ore, or do we conduct a methodical investigation and cleanup?

Comment by John Wardell - Montana's Resource Indemnity Trust would be an appropriate source for the State's 10% cost share.

CAG Member Comment - We should recruit real estate appraisers and agents and other business people for CAG membership. The ramification of designating Libby as an NPL site on the ability to get FHA and VA mortgages should be included in EPA's report to Governor Martz. Response - CAG membership is open and representatives of the groups mentioned have been invited. Also, until sampling has identified which properties are contaminated, there will probably be a cloud over property transactions.

Comment by John Wardell - Butte, East Helena, and Anaconda are all on the Superfund list and there isn't a problem buying and selling property. The CAG should contact banks and local government officials from these communities.

CAG Member Comment - The problem in Libby is different. We have a general air quality stigma.

Response - Libby does not have an area wide air quality problem.

Comment Wendy Thomi - At a future meeting, the CAG should consider visiting other Superfund sites or inviting people from them to Libby to share their experiences.

CAG Action - The CAG agreed that this should be a future agenda topic.

CAG Member Question - How long would be necessary to investigate and cleanup Libby homes on a systematic grid basis?

Answer - Two years is a reasonable estimate.

CAG Member Question - Would it make a difference if this grid based investigation took place under an emergency action rather than an NPL cleanup?

Answer - The time required would be the same. The consideration is funding. Funding would not be guaranteed under an emergency response, because funding is allocated on a need basis, and another site may have a more urgent need. NPL would provide an assured source of funding.

CAG Member Question - Could we continue the cleanup through the Emergency Response Program until money was no longer available and then switch to the NPL funding?

Answer - The NPL process would still have to be followed. We would still be required to seek the governor's concurrence, notice the proposed listing in the Federal Register and seek comments, and respond to all comments.

CAG Member Question - What about going through the NPL process but waiting to make the actual decision until the emergency response funds run out?

Answer - We're not sure if that would be acceptable.

CAG Member Question - If Governor Martz refuses to provide the 10% cost share, could the Legislature meet in special session and appropriate the funds?

Answer by Rep. Carney - The Legislature could override the Governor's decision and appropriate Resource Indemnity Trust funds for the 10%.

CAG Member Comment - Paul Peronard and his team are trustworthy, and we're glad they are here.

CAG Member Comment - A recent New York Times story illustrates Libby's problem. The story included a picture of the mine when it was operating, so that is the picture many Americans have of Libby. We don't have a choice. We must designate Libby as an NPL site so we will have the funding necessary to cleanup the town.

Long-Term Medical Care

Dr. Hugh Sloan, Deputy Surgeon General with Region 8 US Public Health Service, reported on long-term health care issues. He stated that he is encouraged by the progress that has been made since his last CAG visit. The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has opened its doors and is bringing all components to bear on Libby's health care problems. Because of Libby, better partnering among federal and state agencies is occurring and improved safeguards for handling vermiculite insulation are in place.

Determining the appropriate response to Libby's long-term health care needs requires a definition of the problem and a community coalition to help establish priorities. Libby has a coalition that prepared the Community Health Center proposal. Both the Clinton and Bush Administrations are seeking increased funding for Community Health Centers that provide primary health care regardless of ability to pay. Libby's application is a priority for both the State and HHS Region 8, so it has a good chance to receive funding. Money to pay for crisis mental health counseling will also be made available.

Some 1,800 out of the 6,144 people who received medical screening in the ATSDR program had indications of irregularities and need follow-up with a local physician. Survey data indicate that 21% of those screened do not have health insurance. This 21% figure needs to be confirmed. Assuming it to be correct, about 400 of the people screened (21 % of the 1,800) need primary health care, but lack insurance to pay for it.

CAG Member Question - Will there be diagnostic follow-up for all of the 1,800 that had irregularities indicated in their screening results?

Answer - Yes. The intent is to follow-up with all 1,800.

ATSDR Report

Dan Stausbaugh stated that the material that Gerald Mueller was asked to read at the last CAG meeting on behalf of ATSDR about the CT study results may have left an erroneous impression. While the complete study results will not be available for one year, individual results will be sent to study participants as soon as possible. Interim results will also be made available to the community sooner. Mr. Strausbaugh also noted that Sharon Campolucci, Dan Holcomb, and other ATSDR staff from Atlanta will attend the next CAG meeting and will conduct media interviews in Libby the next day.

Internet Web Site

This item was postponed until the next meeting.

Public Comment

There was not additional comment.

Next Meeting

The next CAG meeting is scheduled for Thursday, July 26, 2001 from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. in the Ponderosa Room of Libby City Hall.

Appendix 1

CAG Member Attendance List
July 12, 2001

Members

Organization Represented

Don Wilkins

Lumber & Sawmill Workers

K.W. Maki

Libby School District #4

Gayla Benefield

LCAVRO

Sandy Wagner

Lincoln County Community Health Center

George Keck

Community Health Center

Rep. Eileen Carney

State Representative

Bob Tunis

Lincoln County Economic Development Corporation

Paul Peronard

EPA On-Scene Coordinator

George Bauer

City of Libby

Bob Dedrick

Asbestos Victim

Dr. Brad Black

Lincoln County Health Officer/CARD

Clinton Maynard

Area Asbestos Research Group

Cyrus Lee

Kootenai Valley Head Start

Rick Palagi

St. John's Lutheran Hospital

Leroy Thom

Former Grace Employee

Mike Switzer

Asbestos Victim

Norita Skramstad

Asbestos Victim

Kerry Beasley

St. John's Lutheran Hospital

Rita Windom

Lincoln County

David F. Latham

The Montanian

Wendy Thomi

EPA

Dan Strausbaugh

ATSDR

Robert H. Foote

Libby Ministerial Association

Guests

Organization Represented

Steve Luftig

US EPA, Deputy Assistant Administrator, EPA Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response

Bill Sanders

US EPA, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxic Substances (OPPT)

Tom Simons

US EPA, OPPT

Nikki Tinsley

EPA Inspector General

John F. Wardell

EPA, Director, Montana Office

Hugh Sloan

Deputy Surgeon General, US Public Health Service, Region 8

Jack McGraw

US EPA - Acting Director, Region 8

Aubrey Miller, MD

US Public Health Service, Region 8

Appendix 2

EPAs Actions Concerning Asbestos-Contaminated Vermiculite in Libby, Montana, 2001-S-7, March 31, 2001

Executive Summary

INTRODUCTION

In November 1999, the media ran a series of newspaper articles which reported that miners and their families in the area of Libby, Montana died or became ill from exposure to asbestos-contaminated vermiculite ore, which has been mined near Libby since the 1920s. Subsequently, the media reported that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials knew about the exposure to asbestos and the dangers it posed, but did not take any action. Following these articles, EPA officials requested that we conduct this review. Specifically, we sought to determine:

  • What actions EPA took to address the asbestos exposure to citizens in Libby.
    Barriers EPA faced, and may continue to face, in addressing the issue.
RESULTS IN BRIEF

Although EPA made attempts to address contaminant asbestos exposure like that in Libby, those attempts did not result in regulations or other controls that might have protected the citizens of Libby. EPA has only recently taken specific action to address the asbestos exposure at Libby. Currently, EPA is focusing on an aggressive Superfund cleanup at Libby and other sites that received vermiculite from Libby. EPA is not currently addressing prevention of exposures at other asbestos or asbestos-contaminated ore, rock, and mineral processing sources and related facilities, such as beneficiation, exfoliation, textile, and manufacturing plants, that use and process asbestos or contaminant asbestos.

While EPA is making decisions to address serious public health issues, such as asbestos-contaminated vermiculite, EPA continues to face barriers. These barriers prevented EPA from sufficiently addressing asbestos-contaminated vermiculite at Libby. EPA's efforts were hampered by fragmented authority and jurisdiction within EPA and between it and other agencies. Also, EPA was hindered internally by ineffective communication. EPA's ability to determine the degree of human health risk associated with asbestos-contaminated vermiculite was also impeded by limitations of science, technology, and health effects data. Furthermore, EPA did not place emphasis on dealing with asbestos-contaminated vermiculite due to funding constraints and competing priorities. For example, a 1983 letter sent by an EPA official stated "... asbestos-contaminated vermiculite is considered a lower priority at this time than problems posed by friable asbestos-containing materials in school buildings and commercial and industrial uses of asbestos."

EPA did not issue regulations under air and toxic substances statutes that could have protected Libby citizens from exposure to asbestos-contaminated vermiculite. According to EPA, other issues, such as asbestos in schools and commercial asbestos products, were given higher priority.

If barriers, such as fragmented authority and jurisdiction coupled with ineffective communications, had not existed, EPA might have done more to address asbestos-contaminated vermiculite in the Libby area and other similar situations. However, these barriers hindered EPA's actions, and many of the barriers may still exist and affect EPA's actions today.

RECOMMENDATIONS

In addition to the continuing response actions related to Libby, we recommend that EPA, in partnership with other Federal organizations and states, assess asbestos or asbestos-contaminated ore, rock, and mineral processing sources and facilities (and immediate surrounding areas) that may be similar although unrelated to Libby. Should the Libby-related work and/or these assessments find concerns regarding human health and the environment, we recommend that EPA determine short and long-term actions necessary to protect human health and the environment. In particular, we recommend that EPA consider the need for:

  • Removal or remedial action under the Superfund program;
  • Regulation of contaminant asbestos under the Clean Air Act;
  • Regulation of asbestos in ambient air under the Clean Air Act;
• Regulation of products contaminated with asbestos under the Toxic Substances Control Act; and/or
• Statutory changes to address asbestos and asbestos-contaminated materials.

We also recommend that EPA document the decisions reached and supporting rationale for the options above and any other decisions or options considered.

AGENCY RESPONSE

On March 27, 2001, the Acting Assistant Administrator for Solid Waste and Emergency Response provided a consolidated EPA response with suggested changes to the draft report. Because of the size of the response we did not include it in its entirety in this report, but can provide it to you upon request. We have, however, excerpted pertinent parts in Appendix 4 with our comments. Download the report below.

EPA's Actions Concerning Asbestos-Contaminated Vermiculite in Libby, Montana, 2 MB, 61 pages, PDF Format- This will take a long time to download over a telephone Internet connection!!

Appendix 3

UNITED STATES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20460

JUN 14 2001

THE INSPECTOR GENERAL

Mr. Don W. Wilkins
Community Advisory Group
501 Mineral Avenue
Libby, MT 59923

Dear Mr. Wilkins,

Thank you for your April 9, 2001 letter commenting on our report, EPA 's Actions Concerning, Asbestos-Contaminated Vermiculite in Libby, Montana, and expressing the Community Action Group's concerns. I had hoped to visit Libby to discuss our work soon after I received the letter, but was unable to do so. So, I will briefly respond to your letter. 1, along with other EPA officials, plan to attend the July 12, 2001 Community Action Group meeting, where we can have a more detailed discussion.

You asked what future actions various agencies plan to avoid public health issues such as asbestos contaminated vermiculite in the future. We requested that EPA respond to the recommendations in our report in late June. That response should address your concerns, at least in part. As you may know, the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General (DOL OIG) evaluated the Mine Safety and Health Administration's (MSHA) handling of inspections at W.R. Grace and Company's Libby, Montana mine and recommended that MSHA take actions to reduce asbestos-related health risks to miners. I do not know what actions MSHA plans in response to the DOL OIG recommendations. Kathy Snyder, with MSHA's Office of Information and Public Affairs, is the contact person for questions about MSHA's role and response to DOL OIG's report. Her number is (703) 235-1452.

You suggested that undue political influence from W.R. Grace in the early 1980s impacted EPA's decisions regarding health protection for Libby miners and the community, and you questioned why our report did not address this issue. We did not design our review to look for the political influence you refer to. Instead, we designed the review to focus specifically on EPA's actions to address asbestos exposure to Libby's miners and residents and to identify barriers to EPA actions in providing human health and environmental protection. Even so, our work did not disclose evidence of undue political influence affecting EPA's actions. Our work as well as that of the DOL OIG disclosed a combination of factors, discussed in the two reports, contributed to Federal inaction.

Also, you asked if we coordinated with other agencies when we did our review. We met with OIG representatives from the Department of Labor, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. DOL OIG performed its evaluation at the same time as EPA OIG, and we coordinated with the DOL OIG during our review. I look forward to meeting with the Community Action Group.

Sincerely,

Nikki L. Tinsley

cc: Acting Assistant Administrators for:
Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response
Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances
Office of Air and Radiation
Acting Regional Administrator for Region 8


Photos courtesy of Dudley Dana, Dana Gallery