EPA, ATSDR Funding Five-Year Study of Lower-Level Libby Exposures

Two federal agencies recently announced the Libby Amphibole Health Risk Initiative, an $8 million series of studies of the health effects of residents' exposure to lower levels of Libby, Mont. asbestos (i.e., Libby amphibole). "My interest in Libby dates to the first of my visits with the people of that community with Senator Max Baucus, who deserves credit for his tireless and passionate work on behalf of that community," HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said. "Too little is currently known about exposure to lower levels of Libby asbestos. We hope this effort will expand our knowledge of potential and real health issues that could be facing this group of individuals."

HHS and EPA are doing the work jointly. The five-year initiative will be funded by HHS' Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and EPA; it will examine whether low-level exposure is linked to a higher risk of lung disease, cancer, chronic illnesses, auto-immune diseases, or other adverse health outcomes. High-level, long-term exposures have a known association with lung cancer, serious lung disease, and upper respiratory conditions.

"Since 1999, EPA has been working closely with the community of Libby to clean up contamination and reduce risks to human health," EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson said. "In collaboration with HHS, EPA will continue to help protect the health and well-being of the Libby residents."

The research will include a comparison of the health status of people who were exposed to Libby asbestos in childhood with that of people who did had no such exposure. Also, the work will extend a study by ATSDR and NIOSH that compares film and digital chest x-rays to determine which is better for assessing the status or conditions of lungs.

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