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Ethics and Environmental Health


ATSDR Releases Updated Mortality Review
for the Libby Asbestos Site in Libby, Montana

For Immediate Release: August 15, 2002

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has updated its mortality review for the Libby Asbestos site in Libby, Mont., with an analysis of additional death certificates and an assessment of the impact of possible occupational exposures at the Libby vermiculite mine and milling facility.

ATSDR, a public health agency of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, prepared the mortality review in cooperation with the Montana Dept. of Public Health and Human Services to develop accurate information about deaths potentially associated with asbestos exposure in Libby.

The new report concluded, as did ATSDR's first report in December 2000, that for the 20-year period examined mortality in Libby resulting from malignant and nonmalignant respiratory disease was significantly elevated.

Both reports showed that when compared to Montana and U.S. mortality, there was a 20 percent to 40 percent increase in malignant and nonmalignant respiratory deaths in Libby from 1979 to 1998

Specifically, asbestosis mortality in Libby was 40 times to 80 times higher than expected in Montana and the United States, and lung cancer mortality was approximately 20 percent to 30 percent higher than expected in Montana and the United States.

Mesothelioma mortality was elevated but because statistics on this extremely rare cancer are not routinely collected, it was difficult to quantify the increase. Other nonmalignant, noninfectious respiratory deaths also were significantly elevated.

Most of the increase in respiratory mortality noted in the revised report likely can be associated with occupational exposures. Asbestosis and mesothelioma mortality were found almost exclusively in former workers. Some of the lung cancer mortality occurred in former employees of the vermiculite facility.

The new report is a health consultation called "Mortality in Libby, Montana (1979 -1998)" and is dated August 8, 2002.

In preparing the report, ATSDR reviewed all death certificates for Libby residents who died between 1979 and 1998, and compared the number of deaths from asbestos-related causes to similar deaths across Montana and the United States.

ATSDR representatives will be at a meeting in Libby on Sept. 26 to discuss the report, plus findings of the medical testing and CT scans offered earlier to residents.

Meanwhile, the mortality review health consultation is available for public review at the following repositories:

Lincoln County Library
220 W. 6th Street,
Libby, MT
(406) 293-2778

ATSDR Libby Office
501 Mineral Avenue
Libby, MT

Photos courtesy of Dudley Dana, Dana Gallery