oversight

Hazardous Materials: EPA's Cleanup of Asbestos in Libby, Montana, and Related Actions to Address Asbestos-Contaminated Materials

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-04-14.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

             United States General Accounting Office

GAO          Report to the Honorable Denny Rehberg,
             House of Representatives



April 2003
             HAZARDOUS
             MATERIALS
             EPA’s Cleanup of
             Asbestos in Libby,
             Montana, and Related
             Actions to Address
             Asbestos-
             Contaminated
             Materials




GAO-03-469
             a
                                               April 2003


                                               HAZARDOUS MATERIALS

                                               EPA’s Cleanup of Asbestos in Libby,
Highlights of GAO-03-469, a report to the
Honorable Denny Rehberg, House of
                                               Montana, and Related Actions to Address
Representatives                                Asbestos-Contaminated Materials



Between 1979 and 1998, the                     EPA has had a long track record investigating and cleaning up asbestos
number of deaths in Libby,                     contamination at Libby, Montana. As far back as 1982, EPA reported that
Montana from asbestosis—a lung                 Libby vermiculite ore processed to remove impurities remained
disease that progressively restricts
breathing and can be fatal—was 40
                                               contaminated with asbestos. Nonetheless, EPA misjudged the extent of
to 80 times higher than the average            contamination at Libby and focused instead on higher-priority asbestos
for the United States. Vermiculite             contamination issues at other locations. Although EPA had received
ore—containing high                            citizen complaints about potential health risks with this vermiculite ore
concentrations of asbestos—was                 since 1992, it did not initiate an extensive investigation until after the
mined at Libby between 1923 and                media reported about health problems in Libby in 1999.
1990, and accounted for most of
the world’s vermiculite. Mining,
                                               Cleanup at Libby, begun in 2000, is expected to continue through 2007
processing, or any disturbance of
the contaminated vermiculite                   and cost at least $179 million. Through 2002, EPA spent $79 million on
releases asbestos fibers into the air,         cleaning commercial, residential, and public properties in Libby. Cleanup
which can lead to respiratory                  included sampling analyses, soil excavation and disposal, property
illnesses, including asbestosis.               restoration, and medical testing. EPA plans to spend another $100 million
When processed, the vermiculite is             to complete cleanup activities at these properties and at the Libby mine.
used in insulation, fireproofing
materials, garden materials, and               While the Libby cleanup continues, EPA and agencies within the
other products. GAO reviewed the               Departments of Labor and of Health and Human Services have activities
history of the Environmental
                                               addressing potential exposure to substances contaminated with asbestos.
Protection Agency’s (EPA)
involvement in Libby prior to the              For example, EPA and responsible parties are conducting cleanup at 14 sites
agency’s initiation of cleanup                 that received Libby vermiculite ore, in addition to Libby, as shown below.
actions in 1999, the status and
costs of EPA’s cleanup in Libby,               Vermiculite Ore Processing Sites Requiring Cleanup
and other actions EPA and other
federal agencies are taking to
address exposure to asbestos-
contaminated materials.




www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-03-469.

To view the full report, including the scope
and methodology, click on the link above.
For more information, contact John
Stephenson at (202) 512-3841 or
stephensonj@gao.gov.
Contents


Letter                                                                                                  1
             Results in Brief                                                                          2
             Background                                                                                3
             EPA Was Aware of Potential Health Risks Before 1999, but Other
               Factors, Including Higher Priorities, Prevented Action                                  5
             Ongoing Cleanup in Libby Expected to Cost $179 Million by 2007,
               but Funding Must Compete with Other Projects                                            9
             EPA and Other Agencies Have Activities Underway to Address
               Exposure to Asbestos-Contaminated Material Cleanup in Libby                             12
             Agency Comments and Our Evaluation                                                        19
             Scope and Methodology                                                                     19

Appendix I   GAO Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments                                                    21



Tables
             Table 1: Location and Estimated EPA Cleanup Costs of Sites That
                      Received Libby Ore                                                               15


Figures
             Figure 1: Vermiculite Ore Processing Sites Requiring Cleanup                              14




             Abbreviations

             ATSDR Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
             EPA   Environmental Protection Agency



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             Page i                                                  GAO-03-469 Hazardous Materials
United States General Accounting Office
Washington, DC 20548




                                   April 14, 2003

                                   The Honorable Denny Rehberg
                                   House of Representatives

                                   Dear Mr. Rehberg:

                                   Vermiculite ore mined near Libby, Montana, between 1923 and 1990
                                   accounted for most of the world’s vermiculite. This material was used in
                                   the manufacture of products such as building insulation, fireproofing
                                   materials, and gardening soil. The Libby vermiculite naturally contains
                                   high concentrations of asbestos, which, when released into the air, can
                                   cause serious respiratory illness that can lead to death. The Libby ore
                                   posed health risks at multiple sites: in Libby, when it was mined, crushed,
                                   and partially separated from other materials and then again when it was
                                   shipped and received at facilities around the nation for final processing. In
                                   addition, individuals could be exposed through other sources, such as
                                   workers’ clothing. Overall, between 1979 and 1998, the number of deaths
                                   from asbestosis—a lung disease that progressively restricts breathing and
                                   can be fatal— was 40 to 80 times higher than expected in Libby, Montana,
                                   and, as of 2001, almost 18 percent of current or former Libby residents
                                   who received x-rays were identified as having asbestos-related lung
                                   abnormalities, according to the Department of Health and Human
                                   Services.

                                   The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is cleaning up the Libby site
                                   and other sites at which individuals may have been exposed to Libby’s
                                   asbestos-contaminated vermiculite. Under the Superfund program, created
                                   by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and
                                   Liability Act of 1980, EPA is authorized to clean up sites containing
                                   hazardous waste, including those that present an immediate threat to
                                   human health and the environment, such as Libby. EPA may compel the
                                   parties responsible for the contamination at a site to clean it up, or the
                                   agency may pay for the cleanup itself and later try to recover cleanup
                                   costs from the responsible parties. In addition, EPA and other federal
                                   agencies regulate asbestos under the Clean Air Act and other laws. The act
                                   allows EPA to delegate to the states responsibility for investigating
                                   hazardous air pollutants, such as asbestos.

                                   As agreed with your office, we determined (1) the history of EPA’s
                                   involvement in Libby, Montana prior to the agency’s initiation of cleanup


                                   Page 1                                          GAO-03-469 Hazardous Materials
                   actions in 1999; (2) the status and cost of EPA’s cleanup in Libby; and
                   (3) other actions EPA and other federal agencies are taking to address
                   exposure to asbestos-contaminated materials.


                   EPA has had a long track record investigating and cleaning up the
Results in Brief   extensive asbestos contamination in Libby, Montana. As far back as 1982,
                   EPA reported that the Libby vermiculite ore, even after processing it to
                   remove impurities, remained contaminated with asbestos. This report
                   resulted from an investigation EPA had launched in 1978, after learning
                   that workers at a vermiculite-processing plant in Marysville, Ohio—one of
                   many sites across the country where Libby vermiculite was sent—were
                   exhibiting symptoms of asbestos-related diseases. Nonetheless, EPA did
                   not initiate action to address this contamination at the time because it
                   misjudged the extent of contamination in Libby and focused on what it
                   considered higher-priority asbestos contamination issues at other
                   locations such as school buildings nationwide. Years later, in 1992 and
                   1994, EPA received citizen complaints about potential health risks from
                   vermiculite at a former processing site in Libby. Under the authority
                   delegated to it by EPA, the state of Montana investigated these complaints.
                   According to EPA, the state investigation following the first complaint
                   identified asbestos insulation inside one of the buildings at the site. The
                   insulation was subsequently removed during the demolition of these
                   buildings and EPA fined the owner of the mine for failing, among other
                   things, to notify EPA, as required, of the presence of the insulation prior to
                   the demolition. The state investigation following the second complaint
                   identified asbestos-contaminated vermiculite at the site, but the state took
                   no action because Clean Air Act regulations do not cover emissions from
                   asbestos-contaminated ores such as vermiculite, which are processed for
                   purposes other than extracting their asbestos content. In 1999, media
                   reports called attention to health problems in Libby. These reports
                   triggered a follow-up EPA investigation. Unlike previous investigations,
                   however, this investigation was more extensive and identified widespread
                   contamination. With this evidence, EPA launched a cleanup effort under
                   its Superfund program.

                   Cleanup in Libby, begun in 2000, is expected to continue through at least
                   2007 and cost at least $179 million. This cleanup will include commercial,
                   residential, and public properties within Libby, as well as the mine and
                   adjacent sites. As of December 2002, EPA had spent approximately
                   $79 million for activities such as sampling and analyses, soil excavation
                   and disposal, property restoration, administrative costs, litigation costs to
                   recover cleanup expenditures; and medical testing of current and former


                   Page 2                                          GAO-03-469 Hazardous Materials
             Libby residents. EPA estimates that it will spend an additional $100 million
             to complete cleanup activities in Libby through 2007.

             While the Libby cleanup continues, EPA and agencies within the
             Departments of Labor and of Health and Human Services are taking other
             actions to address potential exposure to substances contaminated with
             asbestos associated with vermiculite mined in Libby. For example, EPA
             has examined the extent of contamination at 173 sites nationwide that
             received Libby ore, and has planned, initiated, or completed cleanup at 5
             sites at an estimated cost of over $7 million. EPA is also examining
             potential changes to existing laws and regulations. For example, EPA is
             considering whether to regulate emissions from materials that naturally
             contain asbestos, such as vermiculite. If EPA were to take this action, it
             could expand the scope of the emissions standards under the Clean Air
             Act that regulate asbestos. Currently, these standards apply only to
             asbestos used for commercial products and not to materials that naturally
             contain asbestos, such as vermiculite. Within the Department of Labor, the
             Mine Safety and Health Administration is investigating exposure to
             asbestos at different types of mines, including vermiculite mines, in order
             to decide on what actions should be taken to protect mine workers from
             overexposure to asbestos in mining facilities— an options paper is
             expected by April 2003. Two agencies within the Department of Health
             and Human Services are also examining the potential for exposure to
             asbestos-contaminated vermiculite. The Agency for Toxic Substances and
             Disease Registry (ATSDR) is examining potential exposures to Libby ore
             in communities identified by EPA, and expects to report its findings in
             2004. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is
             examining the potential for asbestos exposure at horticultural nurseries
             and vermiculite-processing plants that continue to receive vermiculite ore
             from mines other than Libby.


             Asbestos is a term used to describe a group of naturally occurring silicate
Background   minerals, six of which are regulated: actinolite, amosite, anthophyllite,
             chrysotile, crocidolite, and tremolite. Asbestos has several properties that
             made it commercially valuable. Its fibrous nature made it a good thermal
             and acoustic insulator and allowed manufacturers to weave it into cloth.
             Since asbestos is an inorganic mineral, it does not burn. Some applications
             and uses of asbestos are prohibited, such as certain flooring materials, but
             asbestos is still widely used in products such as cement pipes and disc
             brake pads on vehicles. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that over
             26 million pounds of asbestos was used in the United States during 2001.
             EPA estimated that more than 700,000 commercial and public buildings


             Page 3                                         GAO-03-469 Hazardous Materials
    and countless more homes, schools, and factories contain asbestos, most
    of which is chrysotile.

    By the early 1900s asbestos was recognized as a cause of occupational
    disease. Initially, the disease associated with asbestos was asbestosis—a
    scarring of the lung tissue whose symptoms include a shortness of breath
    and can be fatal in advanced cases. During the 1930s and 1940s, the
    connection between asbestos exposure and lung cancer emerged. By 1960,
    the connection between mesothelioma and asbestos exposure was
    established. Mesothelioma is primarily a cancer of the mesothelial lining of
    the lungs. The asbestos-related diseases all have a long latency period
    between the initial exposure and the onset of disease. Asbestos-related
    maladies rarely occur in less than 10 years after first exposure.

    The federal government regulates asbestos-related environmental
    contamination under two principal statutes, the Toxic Substances Control
    Act and the Clean Air Act. However, neither of these statutes specifically
    governs asbestos-contaminated ore, such as the vermiculite in Libby.
    Workers are protected from certain workplace asbestos-related hazards
    under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Mine Safety Act.
    EPA is responsible for administering two of these statutes and the
    Department of Labor is responsible for the other two:

•   Under the Toxic Substances Control Act, EPA regulates asbestos in
    schools and in asbestos abatement activities conducted by state and local
    governments, and has banned asbestos from certain products, such as
    certain types of flooring materials and paper products, and prohibits all
    new uses of asbestos.
•   Under the authority of the Clean Air Act, EPA developed the National
    Emissions Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants for asbestos that applies
    to, among other things, the manufacturing and milling of commercial
    asbestos, the demolition of structures containing asbestos materials, and
    puts restrictions on use of certain types of insulation. The standard does
    not regulate air emissions from asbestos contaminated ore such as that
    from Libby because it is not a commercial product.
•   Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Department of Labor’s
    Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulates occupational
    exposure to airborne asbestos.
•   Under the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act, the Department of Labor’s
    Mine Safety and Health Administration regulates miners’ exposure to
    airborne asbestos concentrations.




    Page 4                                         GAO-03-469 Hazardous Materials
                         In addition, in 1980, the Congress passed the Comprehensive
                         Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, which
                         established the Superfund program, to clean up highly contaminated
                         hazardous waste sites. Under this program, EPA places hazardous waste
                         sites it considers to be the Nation’s worst on the National Priorities List.
                         EPA administers the program, oversees cleanups performed by the parties
                         responsible for contaminating the sites, and may also contract with other
                         entities to perform the actual cleanup work. EPA may compel the
                         responsible parties to clean up the sites, or the agency may pay for the
                         cleanup from the Superfund trust fund and later try to recover cleanup
                         costs from the responsible parties. EPA is seeking to recover its cleanup
                         costs in Libby from the mine’s owners and other potentially responsible
                         parties.

                         The Superfund program has two basic types of cleanups: (1) removal
                         actions, which mitigate immediate threats from hazardous waste sites that
                         may or may not be on the National Priorities List, and (2) remedial actions,
                         which are long-term cleanup actions. Only sites on the National Priorities
                         List may receive Superfund financed remedial actions.


                         As far back as 1982, EPA had reported that Libby vermiculite ore
EPA Was Aware of         processed to remove impurities was contaminated with asbestos, but it did
Potential Health Risks   not initiate investigations leading to cleanup actions until 1999. According
                         to EPA officials, they did not act prior to 1999 because they were unaware
Before 1999, but         of the extent of contamination in Libby, and instead focused on what they
Other Factors,           considered to be higher priority asbestos contamination issues, such as
                         asbestos contamination in schools and commercial buildings.
Including Higher         Furthermore, although a 1992 state investigation of a former Libby
Priorities, Prevented    processing plant found violations of a building demolition standard for
Action                   asbestos, a 1994 state investigation concerning asbestos-contaminated
                         vermiculite at the same site resulted in no enforcement action because
                         Clean Air Act standards do not apply to asbestos-contaminated ores. In
                         1999, newspaper reports triggered an EPA investigation and the resulting
                         cleanup.




                         Page 5                                         GAO-03-469 Hazardous Materials
EPA Investigated Potential       In 1978, EPA learned that workers at a chemical fertilizer plant in
Risk of Libby Vermiculite,       Marysville, Ohio, were exhibiting symptoms of asbestos-related diseases.1
but Focused on More              The plant used vermiculite ore to produce fertilizer products, and the
                                 Libby vermiculite was believed to be the major source of asbestos at this
Highly Contaminated              plant. Relying on the health information provided by the Marysville
Asbestos Products                company, EPA began to issue a series of reports on the potential risk of
                                 asbestos-contaminated vermiculite. Specifically:

                             •   In June 1980, EPA reported that it needed to develop more information,
                                 such as the identification of all vermiculite mine sites, the processors for
                                 the vermiculite, the potential number of employees exposed to asbestos-
                                 contaminated vermiculite, and the products containing asbestos-
                                 contaminated vermiculite.2
                             •   In February 1981, EPA provided a menu of options for regulatory actions
                                 for controlling asbestos-contaminated vermiculite, if further investigation
                                 showed that regulatory action was needed.3
                             •   In August 1982, EPA concluded that there were significant adverse health
                                 effects associated with past occupational exposure to asbestos-
                                 contaminated vermiculite, probably through airborne fibers, at the
                                                   ,
                                 Marysville plant.4 5
                             •   In September 1982, EPA reported the results of its laboratory analysis of
                                 vermiculite samples taken at three major U.S. mines producing
                                 vermiculite, including Libby.6
                                 Although the September 1982 report did not comment on the significance
                                 of the health risks, a 1983 EPA letter stated that the laboratory results


                                 1
                                  Letter from O M Scott & Sons to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Toxic
                                 Substances, and U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration,
                                 December 5, 1978.
                                 2
                                  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Office of Pesticides and Toxic Substances.
                                 Priority Review Level 1—Asbestos-Contaminated Vermiculite. Washington, D.C.,
                                 June 1980.
                                 3
                                  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Office of Toxic Substances. Decision Paper for
                                 Asbestos-Contaminated Vermiculite. Washington, D.C., February 1981.
                                 4
                                  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Office of Toxic Substances. Disposition Paper for
                                 Asbestos-Contaminated Vermiculite. Washington, D.C., August 1982.
                                 5
                                  The plant owners subsequently upgraded the plant’s dust collection equipment to capture
                                 asbestos fibers, and a recent EPA investigation identified no asbestos on site.
                                 6
                                  Midwest Research Institute, Collection, Analysis and Characterization of Vermiculite
                                 Samples for Fiber Content and Asbestos Contamination, a report prepared at the request
                                 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Pesticides and Toxic Substances,
                                 Washington, D.C., September 27, 1982.




                                 Page 6                                                 GAO-03-469 Hazardous Materials
indicated asbestos fibers were less than 1 percent of ore processed to
remove impurities; the memo also stated that EPA considered asbestos
contaminated vermiculite as posing less risk than asbestos-containing
materials in school buildings nationwide, and in commercial and industrial
uses of asbestos.7 Therefore, EPA shifted its focus to these other asbestos
materials and products. We did not find any other documents referring to
specific events, conversations, or policies that led to this decision.
Moreover, we did not find any evidence that EPA officials were pressured
to shift the agency’s focus.

Despite this shift away from vermiculite, EPA continued to consider the
issue of asbestos in vermiculite. In February 1985, EPA developed
estimates of the level and range of exposure for workers and the general
public who come into contact with asbestos-contaminated vermiculite,
which it stated could be used for regulatory decision-making with further
study.8 In March 1987, EPA concluded that vermiculite was one of five
materials that had a high possibility of containing asbestos.9 In the
following three years, EPA pursued steps to support regulation by carrying
out such tasks as requesting information from industry about the health
effects of asbestos found in other materials (“contaminant asbestos”) and
developed estimates of risk to human health.10

In 1991 EPA determined that the weight of evidence for asbestos-
contaminated vermiculite was sufficient to show a causal relationship for
increased lung cancer in miners and millers.11 However, according to EPA,
the agency did not conduct additional work on asbestos-contaminated
vermiculite because it needed its resources to implement the 1990 Clean




7
 Letter from Acting Assistant Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office
of Pesticides and Toxic Substances to the Honorable James A. Courter, House of
Representatives, June 8, 1983.
8
 Versar, Inc., Exposure Assessment for Asbestos Contaminated Vermiculite, a report
prepared by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Toxic Substances,
Washington, D.C., February 1985.
9
    The other materials were asbestos, pyrophyllite, stone, and talc.
10
 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards.
Asbestos in Earth Materials. Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, March 1987.
11
  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Office of Research and Development. Health
Assessment Document for Vermiculite. Research Triangle Park, North Carolina,
September 1991.




Page 7                                                      GAO-03-469 Hazardous Materials
                             Air Act Amendments, which required it to examine almost 200 air
                             pollutants.


State Investigated Citizen   In 1992, in response to a citizen’s complaint about potential exposure to
Complaints in 1992 and       asbestos during the demolition of a Libby vermiculite processing facility,
1994 Concerning Asbestos-    Montana inspectors conducted an investigation, and took nine samples at
                             the site. According to EPA, the sample analysis indicated that there was
Contaminated Vermiculite     asbestos insulation inside one of the buildings undergoing demolition. The
                             Clean Air Act asbestos standard regulates the demolition of structures
                             containing asbestos material. The state determined that the mine owner
                             had failed to notify EPA of its plans to demolish a building containing
                             asbestos, and had not taken necessary precautions such as wetting the
                             asbestos materials to protect the workers conducting the demolition, as
                             required by the emissions standards for asbestos. Subsequently, the
                             buildings were demolished and the mine owner was fined $510,000 for the
                             violations.

                             In November 1994, a citizen complained that dust from the same site, as
                             well as from an adjacent road to haul ore from the mine to the processing
                             site, was harming Libby residents. EPA also referred this complaint to the
                             state of Montana for investigation. According to an EPA official involved
                             in the investigation, the state did not take any action because the asbestos
                             found in the vermiculite at the site and on the road was not considered
                             commercial asbestos. The Clean Air Act asbestos standard only regulates
                             emissions of asbestos from asbestos ore (commercial asbestos), not
                             emissions from asbestos-contaminated ores such as the vermiculite from
                             Libby, which are processed for purposes other than extracting their
                             asbestos content. In an April 1995 letter, EPA informed the citizen that
                             neither the state nor EPA planned any action based on the inspection.

                             EPA did not initiate an investigation leading to cleanup through the
                             Superfund program until November 1999. According to EPA, the agency
                             initiated the investigation in response to local concerns and news articles,
                             which reported the deaths or illnesses of almost 600 current or former
                             Libby residents exposed to asbestos-contaminated vermiculite ore. The
                             EPA investigation team, along with a Montana health official, identified
                             several non-occupational cases of asbestos-related diseases in Libby.
                             Moreover, EPA found actinolite and tremolite asbestos from the Libby
                             vermiculite in more than 30 percent of over 2000 samples taken at
                             residential, business, and public properties around Libby. These and other
                             findings led EPA to conduct further investigations and began cleanup
                             activities in 2000.


                             Page 8                                         GAO-03-469 Hazardous Materials
                       By 2007, EPA expects to spend about $179 million to complete the cleanup
Ongoing Cleanup in     of commercial, residential, and public properties within Libby, as well as
Libby Expected to      the mine and adjacent sites. As of December 2002, EPA had spent
                       approximately $79 million for activities such as sampling and analyses, soil
Cost $179 Million by   excavation and disposal, property restoration, administrative costs,
2007, but Funding      litigation costs to recover cleanup expenditures; and medical testing of
                       current and former Libby residents. Furthermore, based on early
Must Compete with      estimates, EPA expects to spend an additional $100 million between 2003
Other Projects         and 2007 to conduct complete cleanup activities in Libby, as well as the
                       vermiculite mine and adjacent sites. Although EPA has stated it is
                       committed to carrying out the Libby cleanup through 2007, this project
                       will compete for funding on an annual basis with other projects.

                       According to EPA, it initiated cleanup at, based on the initial investigation,
                       what were considered the two most obvious sources of contaminant
                       asbestos in Libby: (1) the former screening plant where the vermiculite ore
                       was separated into different sizes for use in various products and
                       processing facilities located nationwide and (2) a processing facility (the
                       expansion plant) where the ore was heated at 2000 degrees Fahrenheit to
                       remove water and expand the individual granules of ore (like popcorn). In
                       total, the screening plant handled about 6.5 million tons of vermiculite ore
                       between the 1960s and 1990, when the mine closed, according to EPA. At
                       the time that EPA initiated a removal action at the processing sites in 2000,
                       the area around the former screening plant was being used as a wholesale
                       plant nursery, a covered storage facility, and the current owners’ primary
                       residence. The site of the former expansion facility, currently owned by
                       the city of Libby, was being leased to a retail lumber mill.

                       Cleanup-related activities included relocating the residents and businesses
                       from the two sites; demolishing and cleaning up contaminated buildings
                       and structures at the sites; excavating contaminated soil, debris, and
                       vermiculite ore; transporting and disposing of these waste materials at the
                       former mine; and filling the excavated areas with uncontaminated soil. In
                       addition, through an interagency agreement, EPA asked ATSDR to
                       conduct medical testing of current and former Libby residents. EPA
                       sought to identify the asbestos-related health effects of exposure to
                       asbestos from the Libby vermiculite mine. According to ATSDR, almost
                       18 percent of 6,668 current and former Libby residents who received chest
                       x-rays in 2000 and 2001 were identified as having lung abnormalities.




                       Page 9                                          GAO-03-469 Hazardous Materials
    These participants were referred to their physicians for further diagnosis
    and treatment.12

    By December 31, 2001, EPA had spent a total of about $58 million dollars
    on Libby:

•   almost $29 million on cleanup costs;
•   almost $13 million for medical testing and health-related activities;
•   over $13 million on EPA administrative costs, primarily payroll; and
•   almost $3 million enforcement costs associated with cost-recovery
    litigation against the mine owners.

    In July 2001, after additional sampling, EPA identified six other sites in
    Libby that contained asbestos contaminated materials and required
    immediate cleanup. In addition to continued cleanup activities at the
    former processing sites, EPA determined the need to conduct cleanup
    activities at the six additional sites:

•   Two residential properties. One site required removing and disposing of
    unprocessed vermiculite ore; another required removing asbestos-
    contaminated machinery as well as excavating and disposing of
    contaminated soil. EPA completed cleanup at the two residential
    properties by the end of 2001.
•   Three schools. EPA had to remove and dispose of ore from the running
    tracks at the Libby Middle and High Schools, as well as ore from a former
    ice skating rink at the Plummer Elementary School. In addition to these
    cleanup activities, EPA agreed to conduct other restoration activities such
    as reconstructing the running tracks with uncontaminated materials at the
    schools.
•   One road. EPA paved a portion of Rainy Creek Road, which was used to
    transport vermiculite ore from the mine to the processing facilities and



    12
      In addition, ATSDR conducted a mortality study in 2000 to determine the number of
    deaths in Libby between 1979 and 1998 that were attributed to exposure to asbestos.
    (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease
    Registry. Health Consultation: Mortality From Asbestosis in Libby, Montana; Libby
    Asbestosis Site Libby, Lincoln County, Montana. Atlanta, Georgia, Dec. 12, 2000.) In
    August 2002, ATSDR concluded that for the period reviewed, deaths in Libby from
    asbestosis were 40 to 80 times higher than expected in Libby, Montana, and deaths from
    lung cancer were 20 to 30 percent higher than expected. (U.S. Department of Health and
    Human Services. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Health Consultation:
    Mortality in Libby, Montana (1979–1998); Libby Asbestos Site, Libby, Lincoln County,
    Montana. Atlanta, Georgia, August 8, 2002.)




    Page 10                                              GAO-03-469 Hazardous Materials
continues to water the unpaved portion of the road to keep asbestos fibers
from becoming airborne.

In calendar year 2002, EPA spent an additional $21.4 million to complete
cleanup at the areas around the former processing facilities and the
schools, and began to clean up soil and indoor property at more than 900
other residential, commercial, and public properties. EPA designed and
constructed a landfill to dispose of materials removed from these
properties. Asbestos concentrations found inside the additional properties
sampled are attributed to multiple sources of contamination, including
take-home contamination from workers’ clothing, dust from the
processing facilities, vermiculite-containing insulation, contamination
from adjacent properties, dust tracked in on people’s shoes, and
vermiculite material in people’s yards. Indoor cleanup activities will
include decontaminating the interior of homes with special vacuums, and,
when necessary, removing indoor materials such as carpets and drapes.
According to EPA, cleanup of these properties should continue through at
least 2005, at a rate of 250-300 properties per year.

Beginning in 2002, EPA began the remedial investigative process of
screening properties for potential remedial cleanup actions. These actions
are expected to begin, at the earliest, by 2004 and continue through 2007.
According to the remedial project manager, early budget estimates for cost
of the remedial phase is about $100 million. Before remedial cleanup
activities can begin, EPA must conduct and complete two studies to
determine the extent of additional cleanup and remediation at the
residential, commercial, and public buildings. The first study, a
performance evaluation, is intended to evaluate several techniques to
analyze soil samples containing asbestos, which in turn will be used to
choose the most appropriate analytical methods used to collect data
necessary for the second study—a site-specific risk assessment study. The
risk assessment study will require conducting asbestos dosage response
tests on lab animals. EPA will use the risk assessment, along with other
information, to establish final cleanup standards for Libby. According to
the remedial project manager, EPA expects the risk assessment to show
that soil samples containing concentrations of less than 1 percent
actinolite and tremolite asbestos found in Libby can present excessive risk
in certain situations.13 Early estimates indicate that there are about



13
  The National Emissions Standard for Hazardous Air Pollution defines asbestos-
containing materials as those materials containing more than 1 percent asbestos.




Page 11                                                 GAO-03-469 Hazardous Materials
                      300 additional properties that could be cleaned up, depending on the
                      results of these studies, although this number could increase as more
                      analyses are conducted. According to the remedial project manager,
                      current estimates suggest that remedial cleanup in Libby can be completed
                      by 2007.

                      Between 2003 and 2007, the remedial project manager also expects to
                      conduct cleanup and remediation at the mine and adjacent sites, including
                      the mine waste water impoundment and ore waste piles sites adjacent to
                      the mine, as well as the rest of Rainy Creek Road. According to the
                      manager, between 2003 and 2005, EPA will conduct a feasibility study to
                      identify the most efficient way of conducting remedial cleanup at these
                      sites.

                      EPA officials have stated that cleanup in Libby remains a high priority.
                      Moreover, because of the imminent health risk posed by the asbestos-
                      contaminated vermiculite found throughout the community, Libby should
                      remain a high priority for Superfund funding through 2007. However,
                      beginning in 2004, funding for Libby cleanup activities will compete for
                      funding on an annual basis with other projects, including cleanup of other
                      mining sites posing imminent health risks. Funding for the Superfund
                      program, in turn, will complete with other EPA programs and
                      administration budget priorities.


                      EPA and agencies within the departments of Labor and Health and Human
EPA and Other         Services are currently undertaking several activities addressing the
Agencies Have         potential exposure to substances contaminated with asbestos. EPA is
                      inspecting other sites where potential exposure to asbestos contaminated
Activities Underway   vermiculite may be occurring, and examining the need to recommend
to Address Exposure   changes to laws and policies to address contaminant asbestos.
                      Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services agencies are,
to Asbestos-          among other things, examining potential current and past exposure to
Contaminated          asbestos contaminated vermiculite at mines, processing facilities, and
Material Cleanup in   adjacent communities.

Libby




                      Page 12                                       GAO-03-469 Hazardous Materials
EPA Is Taking Actions on       In March 2001, the EPA Inspector General recommended that EPA
Multiple Fronts                examine the risks associated with asbestos-contaminated vermiculite in
                               order to safeguard public health and the environment.14 In responding to
                               the report’s recommendations, EPA (1) identified actions underway, in
                               coordination with other federal agencies, to address potential exposure at
                               other asbestos-related sites; (2) agreed to develop a plan to determine the
                               need for a national emissions standard for sources contaminated with
                               asbestos, such as asbestos-contaminated ores; and (3) and agreed to
                               establish an independent panel to provide advice and counsel on policy
                               issues associated with the use and management of different types of fibers,
                               including asbestos.

                               To respond to the Inspector General’s first recommendation, EPA is taking
                               the following actions:

                           •   Site inspections of 173 processing facilities located nationwide
                               that received Libby vermiculite ore. From initial site inspections
                               conducted by all 10 EPA regional offices, EPA determined that, in addition
                               to Libby, 19 other sites were contaminated with asbestos-contaminated
                               materials and required further investigation. In 14 of the 19 cases, either
                               EPA (5 sites) or the responsible party (9 sites) have planned, initiated, or
                               completed removal activities. (Fig. 1 shows the location of the 14 sites, in
                               addition to Libby, requiring cleanup by EPA or the responsible parties.)
                               EPA or the responsible parties are still investigating five other sites.




                               14
                                U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Office of Inspector General. EPA’s Actions
                               Concerning Asbestos-Contaminated Vermiculite in Libby, Montana. Washington, D.C.,
                               March 31, 2001.




                               Page 13                                             GAO-03-469 Hazardous Materials
Figure 1: Vermiculite Ore Processing Sites Requiring Cleanup




                                        By the end of 2003, EPA will spend over $7.4 million at the five sites on
                                        cleanup-related activities, including sampling and analyses; and soil
                                        excavation, disposal, and restoration. Table 1 provides information on the
                                        five sites that EPA is planning to clean up by the end of 2003.




                                        Page 14                                       GAO-03-469 Hazardous Materials
Table 1: Location and Estimated EPA Cleanup Costs of Sites That Received Libby Ore

                                          Tons of Libby
                                         vermiculite ore                                              Range of asbestos             Estimated
 Location                                    processed        Current use of existing facilities      concentrations at site    cleanup costs
 Denver, Colorado                               100,415       Corn syrup production plant             Up to 12 percent                $150,000
 Wilder, Kentucky                               222,110       Repair and maintenance shop             Up to 5 percent                1,400,000
 Minneapolis, Minnesota                         118,465       Prison furniture and security           Up to 20 percent               4,201,607
                                                              equipment factory; and 260
                                                                                            a
                                                              residential homes in the area
                              b
 Minot, North Dakota                             14,000       City and community group storage        Up to 12 percent               1,180,000
                                                              facility
 New Castle, Pennsylvania                       172,140       Vacant property                         Up to 3 percent                  500,000
 Total                                                                                                                              $7,431,607
Source: EPA (data) and GAO (analysis).
                                                    a
                                                     EPA completed cleanup of factory site in 2001.
                                                    b
                                                     EPA completed cleanup in 2002.


                                                •   Studying potential exposure to asbestos-contaminated vermiculite
                                                    in consumer products. In August 2000, EPA issued two reports
                                                    examining potential exposure to asbestos from consumer products
                                                    containing vermiculite such as potting soil and packaging filler, and has
                                                    drafted a third report on attic insulation expected to be issued in April
                                                    2003. According to an EPA official, these and other studies show that
                                                    hazardous exposure to airborne asbestos fibers can occur when any
                                                    amount of asbestos-contaminated vermiculite is disturbed. Therefore, EPA
                                                    is recommending that consumers handle vermiculite garden products with
                                                    care, such as using these products outdoors or in a well-ventilated area
                                                    and damping it during use to avoid creating dust. EPA is also
                                                    recommending that homeowners should avoid disturbing the vermiculite
                                                    insulation in their attics, and that only certified professionals should test
                                                    this type of insulation or remove it from homes.

                                                    In response to the Inspector General’s second recommendation for the
                                                    possibility of a national emissions standard for contaminant asbestos
                                                    (under the authority of the Clean Air Act) found in other materials such as
                                                    vermiculite, EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation will conduct multiple
                                                    activities. Currently, the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air
                                                    Pollutants applies to the milling, fabrication, manufacturing, application,
                                                    demolition, renovation, and disposal of asbestos and asbestos-containing
                                                    commercial products. Initially, the office plans to participate in
                                                    coordinating entities, such as EPA’s Asbestos Coordination Team, and an




                                                    Page 15                                                     GAO-03-469 Hazardous Materials
interagency asbestos group,15 to avoid duplicating efforts and to take
advantage of expertise found elsewhere. For example, to identify all
available information about the presence of asbestos in vermiculite mining
and processing operations, the office will collect existing information from
local, state, and federal agencies, including regional EPA offices. While
considering the need for a national emissions standard for sources of
contaminant asbestos, the Office of Air and Radiation will build upon the
work conducted by other EPA offices. For example, for the Office of Air
and Radiation to characterize potential risks associated with selected
asbestos emissions sources, it must rely on an update by the Office of
Research and Development of the Integrated Risk Information System file
for asbestos to include more current information about the cancer and
noncancer health effects of asbestos exposure. The official responsible for
updating the file expects to complete work on non-cancer health effects
(asbestosis) by 2005. Work on cancer-related health effects (lung cancer
and mesothelioma), which EPA expects to also complete by 2005, depends
on work now being conducted for the Office of Solid Waste and
Emergency Response. This office has taken the role of organizing
conferences and workshops for both cancer and non-cancer related health
effects.16

Finally, in response to the Inspector General’s recommendation for
considering regulatory changes, the Office of Prevention, Pesticides and
Toxic Substance assembled an independent panel, known as the Asbestos
Focus Group Project, to consider, among other things, regulatory and
legislative options for regulating asbestos. Panel members include
representatives from EPA and other federal regulatory agencies, state
governments, industry, academia, and other interest groups. The panel is
considering such issues as exposure to asbestos in products and materials;
exposure to naturally occurring asbestos, including asbestos found in
concentrations of less than 1 percent; medical and health issues related to



15
  The Asbestos Coordination Team was formed in October 2000 to promote and coordinate
immediate response activities as well as other longer-term asbestos activities across EPA’s
program offices. Since September 2002, EPA, the Mine Safety and Health Administration,
the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Institute for Occupational
Safety and Health, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the U.S.
Geological Survey, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology have met
approximately every quarter for the stated purpose of having an informal exchange of
policy, procedural, and technical information regarding asbestos.
16
  The Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response convened a peer consultation review
by independent scientists of a new risk methodology for asbestos in February 2003.




Page 16                                                 GAO-03-469 Hazardous Materials
                             asbestos exposure; and different methods used to analyze asbestos. EPA
                             expects to issue a final report with recommendations by April 2003.


Other Federal Agencies       The Department of Labor has also begun to consider updating its
Also Taking Actions          regulations on asbestos. In light of asbestos related deaths and serious
                             health problems in Libby, the Mine Safety and Health Administration
                             began examining its sampling methods and analyzing data from samples
                             taken at different types of mines to ensure that it is able to detect very
                             small asbestos fibers, such as those detected by EPA in Libby vermiculite
                             ore.

                             The agency has taken almost 900 samples at more than 40 operations
                             employing more than 4,000 miners in an attempt to determine miners’
                             current exposure levels to asbestos. In addition, the agency published a
                             proposed change to their rules and asked for comments from the mining
                             public on lowering the exposure limit to asbestos fiber; using a more
                             sensitive method to analyze fibers in air samples; and addressing take-
                             home contamination issues. In conjunction with the proposal, they
                             conducted seven public hearings throughout the country. The analysis of
                             the sample results and the comments received in response to the proposal
                             are being used to assist the agency’s decision-making process in
                             determining what actions will be taken to respond to the Department’s
                             Inspector General report about asbestos exposure in Libby.17 The agency is
                             developing an options paper to present to the Assistant Secretary for Mine
                             Safety and Health in April 2003. The options paper will present alternative
                             methods available to the agency to protect miners from overexposures to
                             asbestos in mining facilities.

                             Two agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services are
                             also taking actions on asbestos-contaminated vermiculite.

                         •   ATSDR. In 2001, the agency began funding states’ efforts to identify
                             communities with excess numbers of asbestos-related diseases that are
                             located near facilities identified by EPA as having received or processed
                             Libby vermiculite ore. The agency provided a total of $1.6 million in grants
                             to nine states in fiscal years 2001 and 2002; these states are to analyze and



                             17
                               U.S. Department of Labor. Office of Inspector General. Evaluation of MSHA’s Handling
                             of Inspections at the W.R. Grace & Company Mine in Libby, Montana. Washington, D.C.,
                             March 22, 2001.




                             Page 17                                               GAO-03-469 Hazardous Materials
    report their findings to ATSDR within 3 years.18 In another study, begun in
    2002, the agency inspected 28 processing facilities that received
    vermiculite ore from Libby, which it identified as having the highest
    potential for exposure to contaminant asbestos. ATSDR examined
    processing facilities that received greater than 100,000 tons of vermiculite
    ore from Libby, as well as other processing facilities that EPA identified as
    needing further action. According to ATSDR officials, the agency will
    begin publishing site-specific public health consultations on their findings
    in mid 2003, and, where appropriate, make recommendations for actions
    to protect public health. The agency expects to issue a comprehensive
    report in 2004. Also, ATSDR provided a grant totaling $550,000 in 2002 to
    the Montana State Department of Public Health and Human Services for
    continued medical testing of people that were exposed to high
    concentrations of asbestos-contaminated vermiculite in Libby.
    Additionally, in 2003, ATSDR is developing the Tremolite Asbestos
    Registry of persons potentially exposed to asbestos in Libby, primarily to
    inform people that may have been exposed to this type of asbestos, as well
    as to collect data that can be used in health studies on asbestos-
    contaminated vermiculite.
•   Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In response to a request
    by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Centers’
    National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is examining the
    potential for current occupational exposure to contaminant asbestos in
    vermiculite at nurseries and processing facilities. The Institute collected
    samples at three plant nurseries operated by the Departments of
    Agriculture and of Interior, as well as at seven plants that process
    domestic and imported vermiculite. The Institute expects to report results
    of its analysis in 2003. The Institute is also updating an earlier study,
    published in 1987, that documented significant excesses of asbestosis and
    lung cancer related to asbestos fiber concentrations in the work
    environment at the Libby mining and milling operations. 19 The update,
    expected to be completed in 2005, is intended to yield better precision in
    quantitatively estimating risk associated with fiber exposure from the
    Libby vermiculite. Also, the Institute will publish a fact sheet in 2003 that
    will provide guidance to workers and employers on the safe handling of
    vermiculite or vermiculite-containing products that may be contaminated



    18
     The nine states participating in the study are: California, Colorado, Louisiana,
    Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Utah, and Wisconsin.
    19
      Amandus, H.E., Wheeler, R. (1987): “The Morbidity and Mortality of Vermiculite Miners
    and Millers Exposed to Tremolite-Actinolite: Part II. Mortality.” American Journal of
    Industrial Medicine 11:15-26.




    Page 18                                                   GAO-03-469 Hazardous Materials
                     with asbestos.


                     We provided EPA, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the
Agency Comments      Department of Labor with a draft of this report for review and comment.
and Our Evaluation   Both EPA and the Department of Health and Human Services provided
                     technical comments that we incorporated into the draft report as
                     appropriate. The Department of Labor did not have any comments on the
                     draft report.


                     To determine the history of EPA’s involvement in Libby, Montana, we
Scope and            obtained administrative records from EPA’s Region 8 Office in Denver,
Methodology          Colorado. These administrative records contain thousands of documents
                     on EPA’s actions dealing with asbestos-contaminated vermiculite ore
                     originating from Libby.

                     To determine the cost of cleanup in Libby, we obtained cost information
                     from Region 8 officials and the Department of Justice. EPA and Justice
                     had assembled these documents for its cost-recovery litigation with the
                     mine’s owners and other potentially responsible parties.

                     To determine the status of actions EPA and other federal agencies are
                     taking to address future exposure to asbestos-contaminated vermiculite,
                     we collected documentation and interviewed officials from several EPA
                     offices, including the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, the
                     Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics, and the Office of Air and
                     Radiation. We visited Libby, Montana to interview the EPA official
                     responsible for oversight of the cleanup at that location. We also
                     interviewed and collected documentation from officials in EPA’s regional
                     offices in Chicago, Dallas, and Denver who were responsible for
                     conducting site inspections at some of the 173 sites that received
                     vermiculite ore from the Libby mine. We judgmentally selected these
                     regions because, combined, they accounted for about 50 percent (86) of
                     the 173 sites. To determine the cost of cleanup at other sites that received
                     Libby vermiculite ore, we collected documentation and interviewed
                     officials in EPA’s regional offices in Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, and
                     Philadelphia. We also interviewed and obtained documentation from
                     officials from other federal agencies involved in ongoing activities to
                     address potential exposure to asbestos-contaminated materials at other
                     sites around the country. These other agencies include the Mine Safety
                     and Health Administration and the Occupational Safety and Health
                     Administration in the Department of Labor, and the Agency for Toxic


                     Page 19                                         GAO-03-469 Hazardous Materials
Substances and Disease Registry and the National Institute for
Occupational Safety and Health in the Department of Health and Human
Services.

We conducted our work between June 2002 and February 2003 in
accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.


As arranged with your office, unless you publicly announce its contents
earlier, we plan no further distribution of this report until 30 days after the
date of this letter. We will send copies of this report to the Administrator
of EPA, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services,
the Secretary of the Department of Labor, the Director of the Office of
Management and Budget, and other interested parties. We will make
copies available to others on request. This report will be available at no
charge on our Web site at http://www.gao.gov.

If you or your staff have any questions about this report, please call me at
(202) 512-3841. Key contributors to this report are listed in appendix I.

Sincerely yours,




John B. Stephenson
Director, Natural Resources and the Environment




Page 20                                          GAO-03-469 Hazardous Materials
                  Appendix I: GAO Contacts and Staff
Appendix I: GAO Contacts and Staff
                  Acknowledgments



Acknowledgments

                  John B. Stephenson (202) 512-3841
GAO Contacts      Daniel J. Feehan (303) 572-7352


                  In addition to those named above, Bernice H. Dawson; Arturo Holguín, Jr.;
Acknowledgments   Robert E. Kigerl; and Carol Herrnstadt Shulman made key contributions to
                  this report.




(360221)
                  Page 21                                      GAO-03-469 Hazardous Materials
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