March 26, 2019

Baucus took 'vow' to help Libby residents harmed by asbestos

For residents of Libby ravaged by asbestos-related diseases, U.S. Sen. Max Baucus has delivered on health care – including special government coverage like nowhere else in America.

“Just about every step of the way, Max has been there,” says Gayla Benefield, a Libby resident and activist who helped expose the asbestos pollution in Libby. “All we’ve had to do is ask, and he’s been right on it.”

Libby’s infamous asbestos problem stems from a now-defunct vermiculite mine last operated by W.R. Grace and Co. on the edge of town. Generations of workers at the mine breathed asbestos fibers from the vermiculite and brought the deadly fibers home on their clothes, infecting their families with lung disease as well.

Grace also left piles of low-grade vermiculite near the mine, for anyone to take. It was used in gardens, baseball fields, track fields and for home insulation throughout Libby, exposing hundreds more to its asbestos fibers.

More than 3,000 people from Libby have been diagnosed with asbestos-related lung disease, some 400 have died and the numbers continue to grow.

Libby residents diagnosed with the disease, however, have a unique benefit, thanks to Baucus: They are covered by Medicare, regardless of their age.

Medicare, usually reserved for Americans 65 or older, provides free hospital care, insurance for non-hospital care for about $105 a month and prescription drug coverage.

Tanis Hernandez, administrative director of the Center for Asbestos Related Disease in Libby, says ever-younger residents are coming to the clinic to get screened for asbestos lung diseases. If they screen positive, they get Medicare coverage.

Baucus, D-Mont., chief architect of the 2010 Affordable Care Act – “Obamacare” – wrote the Medicare provision into the bill, for citizens affected by contamination at Superfund sites declared a “public health emergency.” Libby is the only such site in the country.

Last week, Baucus also announced expansion to several counties near Libby of a pilot program covering some additional services not usually covered by Medicare, like home health assistance.

This special Medicare coverage isn’t the only help Baucus has helped arrange for Libby’s asbestos victims.

He helped get seed money and grants for the clinic, which provides free screening for Libby residents, secured funding to help pay for its expansion, pushed for the 2009 public health emergency declaration, and supported a $10 million grant in 2011 to cover future screening costs.

“We wouldn’t be where we are today without his support,” Hernandez says. “He’s always been there to hear the latest concerns and struggles, and to try to find a solution.”

Baucus visited Libby last summer, and brought along the head of the U.S. Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services with him. He said Libby had been a top priority for him, since meeting victims and activists 14 years earlier.

“I made a vow to myself,” he said, “(that) I would do whatever it took to help the people of Libby.”


Baucus took 'vow' to help Libby residents harmed by asbestos

The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) Applauds U.S. Senate for Passage of the Tenth Annual Resolution …


The Asbestos
Disease Awareness Organization
(ADAO), which combines education,
advocacy, and community to help ensure justice for asbestos victims,
applauds the U.S. Senate passing of the tenth annual resolution
establishing April 1-7 as “National Asbestos Awareness Week.” Senate
Resolution 336, led by Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) and cosponsors, passed
on January 16, 2014, designating a week dedicated to raising public
awareness about the prevalence of asbestos-related diseases and the
dangers of asbestos exposure.

“Senator Baucus’ legacy of leadership as an advocate for asbestos
awareness and education is unmatched,” stated Linda Reinstein, President
and Co-Founder of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization. “This
resolution establishing the tenth annual ‘National Asbestos Awareness
Week’ is a fitting way for us to bid him farewell as he exits his
position as a beloved U.S. Senator for the State of Montana. As a
mesothelioma widow, I am forever indebted to him for playing such an
important role in shaping a new era of asbestos awareness and advocacy
for victims and their families.”

Despite its known dangers, there is still no global ban on asbestos, and
it continues to claim lives. Exposure to asbestos, a human carcinogen,
can cause mesothelioma, lung, gastrointestinal, laryngeal, and ovarian
cancers; as well as non-malignant lung and pleural disorders. The
World Health Organization estimates that 107,000 workers around the
world will die every year of an asbestos-related disease
, equaling
300 deaths per day.

“With the people of Libby in mind, I am honored to sponsor the Asbestos
Awareness Week resolution. Although we can’t right the tragic wrong that
took place in Libby, Asbestos Awareness Week makes sure folks have the
resources and tools they need to keep the tragedy of Libby from
happening again,” said Baucus, who was instrumental in urging the EPA to
declare its first ever public health emergency in Libby, Montana. “I’m
proud of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization and folks across
Montana for the work they have done to raise awareness and fight for the
victims of asbestos exposure.”

“On behalf of ADAO, I would also like to thank Senator Barbara Boxer
(D-CA), Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA),
Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), and Senator Jon
Tester (D-MT) for their support of Resolution 336,” stated Ms.
Reinstein. “We are delighted by the bi-partisan support and rapid
passage of this resolution, so that we can again build a continuing
legacy of hope that is documented at this same time each year.”

ADAO will hold its Tenth
Annual International Asbestos Awareness Conference
on April 4 – 6,
2014, at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, VA. More than 30
renowned medical experts and asbestos victims from ten countries will
speak on the latest advancements in asbestos disease prevention,
treatment for mesothelioma and other asbestos-caused diseases, and
global ban asbestos advocacy.

About the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization

The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) was founded by
asbestos victims and their families in 2004. ADAO is the largest
non-profit in the U.S. dedicated to providing asbestos victims and
concerned citizens with a united voice through our education, advocacy,
and community initiatives. ADAO seeks to raise public awareness about
the dangers of asbestos exposure, advocate for an asbestos ban, and
protect asbestos victims’ civil rights. For more information, visit


Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO)

Kim Cecchini

Media Relations


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The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) Applauds U.S. Senate for Passage of the Tenth Annual Resolution …

EPA blamed for delays in asbestos study in Montana

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Internal investigators faulted the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday for years of delays in completing health studies needed to guide the cleanup of a Montana mining town where hundreds of people have died from asbestos exposure.

The EPA‘s Office of Inspector General said in a report that the studies are necessary to determine whether expensive, ongoing cleanup efforts are working in the town of Libby.

The area near the northwest corner of the state, about 50 miles from the U.S.-Canada border, was declared a public health emergency in 2009, a decade after federal regulators first responded to concerns over asbestos dust that came from a W.R. Grace and Co. vermiculite mine.

The vermiculite was used as insulation in millions of homes across the U.S.

At least $447 million has been spent on the cleanup and the town remains under the first-of-its-kind emergency declaration issued by then-EPA administrator Lisa Jackson. The deaths among residents are expected to continue for decades due to the long latency of asbestos-related diseases.

The inspector General first raised concerns about the government’s failure to figure out the danger posed by Libby asbestos more than six years ago, at the prodding of U.S. Sen. Max Baucus and former Sen. Conrad Burns. After earlier denying proposals to carry out a formal risk assessment, the agency in 2007 said it would be done by 2010.

It’s still at work on the document, with completion now slated for late 2014.

“That should have been the first thing they did,” Libby Mayor Doug Roll said Thursday. “When something hurting people and in this case killing them you need to find out what’s toxic.”

In Thursday’s report, investigators attributed the delays to competing priorities within the agency, contracting problems and unanticipated work that came up as the process unfolded.

For his part, EPA Acting Regional Administrator Howard Cantor said the agency strongly disagrees with many of the Inspector General’s conclusions.

Cantor said the risk and toxicity studies are complex endeavors that need to be done properly to make sure Libby’s residents are protected.

He added that the cleanup already has addressed 1,700 homes and commercial properties and resulted in the removal of 1.2 million tons of contaminated soil.

“The rigor with which we’re undertaking efforts to protect public health and the environment have not been affected by these delays,” he said.

But the investigators said poor communication with Libby residents, members of Congress and the Inspector General’s Office compounded the problem. They added that the agency’s lack of transparency could undermine confidence in its work in Libby.

A draft toxicology study that is key to completing the risk assessment for Libby says even an extremely small amount of asbestos fibers from the now-shuttered W.R. Grace mine can cause health problems.

Representatives of W.R. Grace and others in the chemical industry have pushed for revisions, saying the toxicity level set by the EPA is impractical because it exceeds background levels of asbestos found in some parts of the country.

Montana U.S. Sen. Max Baucus said in a statement responding to Thursday’s report that the EPA needs to avoid its past mistakes and get its studies done quickly.

“We need to move forward with this toxicological assessment, so we are making the right decisions based on the right science,” Baucus said.

Meanwhile, the cleanup grinds on. At least 80 and up to 100 properties in town are queued up for work this year, according to the EPA.

Several hundred properties still need to be addressed, and that list could grow significantly if the agency’s studies determine certain properties need to be revisited.

Work on the mine site outside town has barely begun. It closed in 1990 and remains the responsibility of W.R. Grace. A company spokesman did not immediately reply to an Associated Press request for comment.

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EPA blamed for delays in asbestos study in Montana