EPA Had Prior Knowledge of Asbestos Woodchips in Libby, Montana

The Associated Press recently broke the news that wood chips containing asbestos were being sold out of the abandoned Stimson Lumber mill in Libby, Montana. The asbestos-laden wood was being sold for landscaping purposes for several years before the EPA put a stop to it. Now, the Associated Press reveals that the EPA had prior knowledge of the entire operation.

After the news broke about the asbestos wood, Montana Senator Max Baucus asked for a full investigation. At first, the EPA said that they had known about the wood since last fall; however, in a follow-up letter to Baucus, the EPA confessed that they had known about the operation since the fall of 2007.

“EPA needs to understand it has a responsibility to earn Libby’s trust and that means going above and beyond to keep folks informed,” said Senator Baucus.

The EPA stated that it will conduct tests on the possible health risks caused by the operation this summer.

“Priority number one is making sure folks are safe, and these new tests will help us figure out if the wood chips are dangerous and whether more steps need to be taken to protect the community,” said Baucus.

Sonya Pennock, a spokeswoman for the EPA said that “at the time [we knew about the selling of the wood, we] did not rise to the level of action.” Pennock went on to explain that when they stopped the operation in March, it was because of new information about the levels of asbestos contamination in the wood. “Now we have the new toxicity values,” said Pennock. “And so we are going to apply those.”

Jim Martin, the regional director of the EPA, wrote in a letter to Max Baucus, “If there is a significant risk from the wood chips, the EPA will develop a plan to address this issue.”


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