Libby, Montana has fought lung diseases due to asbestos for over a century; but now the effects of asbestos exposure and COVID-19 are giving residents of Libby a new worry.
History of Libby asbestos exposure
This combination of silent killers increases the medical fears that have long plagued the area. For generations, Libby, Montana has fought serious lung diseases due to large exposures to asbestos posed by asbestos contaminated vermiculite mined from nearby Zonolite mountain. Asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma – a deadly disease – have led to hundreds of deaths and many residents with scarred and damaged lungs.
Asbestos exposure and COVID-19 threats
Now coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and the ensuing pandemic, has left Libby with additional medical worries. COVID-19 is especially dangerous for older people and those with lung or heart conditions, severe obesity, diabetes, and weakened immune systems. Today, 1 in 10 residents are diagnosed with some form of asbestos disease. Since generations of residents lived with the horror of asbestos exposure, this new threat is just one more blow.
Deception leads to distrust
National Public Radio (NPR) reports trusting authorities can be difficult for some individuals who lived through deceptions about asbestos – not knowing that the mines and piles of mine waste that abounded in the area were toxic to them. But W.R. Grace and Company knew and kept it secret for decades. Eventually the EPA came in during the 1990s, helped clean up the town and made the former mine a super fund site.
Turning to today, COVID-19 is a potentially deadly virus. Local, state and federal health officials warn that masks should be worn and contacts limited. But as NPR reports, mistrust in state and local authorities from their initial handling of asbestos disease issues from the mines makes it difficult for some in Libby to know what to do with the new silent health threat posed by COVID-19. Some just want to get back to work and to their lives. This area of Montana is beautiful – leading the town to rely on the visits of tourists. Yet, tourists could bring more of this new health threat into their town. This conundrum leads to varying opinions among residents on how to protect while keeping livelihoods.