More cleanup completed at Libby Superfund site

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FILE - This Feb. 17, 2010, aerial file photo, shows the town of Libby Mont. Environmental officials say a portion of a northwestern Montana town's asbestos cleanup has been completed and will be removed from the federal Superfund list. The 45-acre area removed from the National Priorities List, Wednesday, April 10, 2019, is 5 miles north of downtown Libby, and it is only one of eight units of the Libby Asbestos Superfund site. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday said it is deleting a portion of the Libby Asbestos Superfund site in Libby from the National Priorities List because the federal agency and Montana Department of Environmental Quality have determined all required cleanup activities are complete in the Operable Unit 2 area.

Cleanup has been underway in the Libby area for decades because of widespread toxic asbestos exposure from the defunct W.R. Grace & Co. vermiculite mine near Libby. Since the vermiculite mine and surrounding area became a Superfund site 20 years ago, the EPA has investigated over 8,100 properties and as of November 2018 completed most of the remaining 2,600 scheduled property cleanups located within Libby and Troy. These cleanups required the removal and replacement of more than 1 million cubic yards of contaminated soils.

A heavy snow winter prompted the cleanup delay of just a couple of remaining properties, EPA spokeswoman Katherine Jenkins said Wednesday.

EPA Acting Regional Administrator Deb Thomas said the deletion of the Operable Unit 2 properties from the Superfund list “reflects the progress EPA and our partners continue to make in cleaning up and restoring properties in Libby.”

The Libby Asbestos Superfund site was placed on the National Priorities List in 2002 due to high levels of Libby amphibole asbestos in and around the communities of Libby and Troy. The site is divided into eight operable units.

Operable Unit 2 includes areas impacted by asbestos contamination released from the former Grace screening plant. These areas include the former plant, the Flyway property, the Montana 37 right of way next to the former screening plant and Rainy Creek Road and privately owned properties, collectively totaling 45 acres.

Components of the long-term remedy included the removal and containment of contaminants and institutional controls to prevent exposure.

EPA is deleting Operable Unit 2 based on a determination that no further remediation action is needed to protect human health and the environment, the press release said. The area will continue to be subject to operation and maintenance activities, including regular reviews for protectiveness.

A public meeting about Operable Unit 3, which includes the vermiculite mine site and is the only remaining operable unit that hasn’t been cleaned up, will be held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 24, at the K.W. Maki Theatre, 724 Louisiana Ave. in Libby.

The meeting will include a presentation from the EPA and W.R. Grace & Co. about Operable Unit 3, including background information, updates on fire season planning and preparations with U.S. Forest Service and Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. Grace officials will talk about dam safety work.

According to the EPA, Records of Decision, which explain which cleanup methods will be used at Superfund National Priorities List sites, have been issued for all other Libby operable units except the mine site. Operable units include the export plant, screening plant, mine site, remedial site-wide area, Stimson Lumber, BNSF Railway railroad corridor, Troy and state highways.

For more information about the Libby Superfund site, visit: https://www.epa.gov/superfund/libby-asbestos

News Editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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