November 10, 2008

A newly-released report from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has concluded that employees, their families, and people living near one of 28 so called “exfoliation sites” may have been exposed to amphibole asbestos from vermiculite mined in Libby, Montana between the 1920s and early 1990s.

These exfoliation sites mentioned in the ATSDR report were industrial plants where the vermiculite was processed. Workers at these exfoliation sites came into close contact with asbestos over long periods of time.

When disturbed, asbestos fibers easily break apart and become airborne. When inhaled, asbestos fibers become permanently lodged in the body and can cause life-threatening diseases, such as mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer.

Because serious diseases related to asbestos exposure can remain asymptomatic in the body for decades, those exposed to asbestos through the vermiculite exfoliation sites may not show symptoms of asbestos health complications yet. However, it is urgent that those who may have been exposed inform their health care providers of their potential asbestos exposure. Potentially fatal diseases, such as mesothelioma, can be better managed if diagnosed early.

The 28 exfoliation sites studied by the ATSDR were in operation at various times between the 1920s and early 1990s. The agency conducted the study at the request of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which had identified 245 industrial sites where Libby, Montana vermiculite may have been processed.

According to the report, the three groups at greatest risk for amphibole asbestos exposure are:

  • Those who worked in exfoliation facilities at some point between the 1920s and the early 1990s
  • Those who lived in the same home as the workers and were exposed to asbestos that was carried home on workers’ clothing
  • Members of the community, especially children, who had frequent, direct contact with vermiculite and waste rock (a by-product of exfoliation) from these exfoliation facilities

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Published November 17, 2011 by