Federal Agencies Launch $8 Million Effort to Study Libby, Montana Asbestos Exposure

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced the Libby Amphibole Health Risk Initiative, a series of projects totaling $8 million designed to understand the health effects of exposure to lower levels of Libby, Montana 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.”

The 5-year initiative, to be funded by HHS’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the EPA, will focus on determining whether exposure to lower levels of Libby asbestos is associated with increased risk of lung disease, cancer, chronic illnesses, auto-immune diseases or other adverse health outcomes. It is currently known that long-term exposure to high levels of asbestos is associated with lung cancer, serious lung disease and upper respiratory health 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 initiative will seek input and advice from Libby residents and organizations and is expected to include:

  • Studies that compare the health status and conditions of people who were exposed to Libby asbestos in childhood to the health status and conditions of people who did not have such exposure.
  • Expanded evaluation of Libby residents who were exposed to the asbestos, including those who had lower levels of environmental exposure to the Libby asbestos.
  • An assessment of whether the adverse health effects of exposure to Libby asbestos extend beyond lung disease.
  • Strengthening existing public health tracking systems (e.g., the State Cancer Registry) and patient health record databases in order to better link exposure information to health conditions and outcomes.
  • Continuation of a study by ATSDR and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) that compares film and digital chest x-rays in an effort to determine which is best for assessing the status or conditions of lungs.

More information on the Libby Amphibole Health Risk Initiative can be found at www.atsdr.cdc.gov and www.epa.gov.

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