Accessible Navigation. Go to: Navigation Main Content Footer

Libby Community Advisory Group
Meeting Summary

March 14, 2002


Gerald Mueller and members of the Libby Community Advisory Group (CAG) introduced themselves. A list of the members and guests in attendance is attached below as Appendix 1. Mr. Mueller stated that he was asked to make two announcements on behalf of people unable to attend today's meeting. David Latham cannot attend because he is busy this week with St. Patrick's Day music activities. He will attend the March 28 CAG meeting. Dan Strausbaugh is conducting site activities in Billings today, and he intends to attend the March 28 meeting. ATSDR staff from Atlanta are planning to travel to Libby the second week in April and will attend the April 11, 2002 CAG meeting.


Mr. Mueller reviewed an agenda for this meeting including the following topics:

Public Comment

Meeting Schedule

The CAG reaffirmed its desire to meet twice monthly. Mr. Mueller announced that he has a conflict on May 9, 2002 that would prevent him from coming to Libby. Since May has five Thursdays, the CAG agreed that its May meetings will be scheduled for May 16 and May 30.

Meeting with Governor Martz

Mr. Mueller reported that Les Skramstad has had communication with Governor Martz' office and a meeting has been established with the Governor and Ms. Velazquez on March 27 at 2:00 pm in the Governor's office. This meeting was the subject of the CAG's February 28 letter to Governor Martz.

EPA Report

Duc Nguyen reported on behalf of EPA.

New Regional Administrator

Robert E. Roberts has been appointed to be Administrator of EPA's Region 8 by Administrator Christine Todd Whitman. He is expected to assume his new position in mid May. The Libby Team will invite him to visit Libby. Mr. Roberts has been Executive Director of the Environmental Council of States (ECOS) for the past seven years. ECOS is the national, non-partisan, non-profit association, established as a clearing house of information for state and territorial

environment commissioners and to articulate state positions to the Congress, federal agencies and the public. From 1990 to 1995, Roberts was Secretary, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, a cabinet level position in South Dakota. In that position, he served on two national EPA advisory groups dealing with the impact of environmental programs on small towns and local government.

Declaration of a Public Health Emergency in Libby and Zonolite Insulation Removal

Paul Peronard met last week at EPA Headquarters in Washington DC with Marianne Horinko, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, to discuss comments received on the action memo addressing the Libby health emergency declaration and Zonolite insulation removal. Mr. Peronard is revising the memo and expects to carry it to Administrator Whitman next Tuesday for her signature.

Stimson Property

On March 11, Mr. Nguyen met with officials from Stimson to discuss a sampling plan for the Stimson mill property. Sampling will occur on five locations, at the gravel parking lot which is the site of the former vermiculite expansion plant, at the railroad spur at which raw and processed vermiculite was handled, at the location of a former nursery which used vermiculite as a growth medium, at the central maintenance building in which vermiculite was used for insulation, and at the binder plant in which vermiculite was used as insulation for the plywood dryers. Sampling will begin first at the central maintenance building during the last week of March or first week of April.

Residential Sampling

Two crews are continuing to collect soil and dust samples at about six residential properties per day. Samples have been collected at 250 houses to date.

Audience Member Question - Would EPA comment on the recent Missoulian story mentioning the possibility of moving the town of Libby?

Answer - The story was a report on a speech and class appearance at the University of Montana by Lois Gibbs whose home and family was impacted by Love Canal. Love Canal and Ms. Gibbs's activism led to the passage of the Superfund law. Ms. Gibbs was quoted as saying that Libby should be moved because of the widespread asbestos contamination. Ms. Gibbs did not have all of the facts. Air monitoring results are negative for asbestos contamination. There is no reason to move the town.

Comment by Gayla Benefield - I spoke via telephone with Ms. Gibbs for two hours. Ms. Gibbs agreed that she does not have many facts about the situation in Libby. The quotation about the need to move Libby did not come from Ms. Gibbs speech but from answers to a student's question. Ms. Gibbs said that the Missoulian quotation was taken out of context.

CAG Member Comment - This type of publicity hurts. Two lenders are pulling out of Libby. A real estate agent I have spoken with indicates that visits to the real estate agency's web page concerning sales in Libby have dropped substantially over the last two years.

CAG Member Question - Would EPA be willing to issue a statement to the media to offset what was in the Missoulian?

Answer - Yes. I will talk with Wendy Thomi and Matt Cohn, an EPA attorney, about issuing a press release to assure people that it is safe to come to Libby.

CAG Member Comment - The press release should go to more than local media.

CAG Member Comment - The offending material was two lines in a Missoulian story. While I agree that we need to work to present an accurate image of Libby, if people choose not to come here because of these two lines, perhaps we would not want them here.

CAG Member Question - Who were the lenders and why did they choose to stop making loans here?

Answer - The lenders were private corporations that buy and sell loans. One company was Sun Trust. The reasons that they are no longer doing business in Libby is more complicated than just the Superfund issues.

Audience Member Comment - Some corporations have also stopped selling home insurance here.

CAG Member Question - Will the cost of funding the war on terrorism divert money from Superfund cleanups?

Answer - I am not sure how to answer this question. It is hard to predict what will happen to the federal budget year-by-year. One of the reasons that the Libby team has recommended Superfund status is the guarantee of long-term funding. The emergency cleanup work has been funded with annual budgets. As the emergency cleanups to protect against immediate threats to public health and safety are completed], the lower grade contaminations will remain. This contamination will be addressed by Mr. Christiansen and the Superfund remediation program.

Audience Member Question - You mentioned that sampling will be done on the Stimson mill property. Will the results of this sampling be brought back to this group and made public?

Answer - We must give the sampling results to the property owner and can release them only with the owner's permission. We will ask Stimson to make the results public.

CAG Member Comment - We are concerned that if the sampling finds contamination, the plywood plant might be shut down. We don't know how Libby could survive shut down of the mill.

Response - This may be the appropriate time to respond both to this comment and to questions emailed by Don Wilkins about whether Stimson will be held responsible for cleanup of its property. EPA is now assessing the level of contamination. No decisions have been made about who will conduct the cleanup, how it will occur, or who will pay for it. We are considering whether the innocent property defense against any cleanup costs should apply. We need to understand whether Stimson conducted any environmental investigation of possible contamination when it purchased the property so we know what Stimson knew at the time. We understand the significance of Stimson as an employer in Libby. Normally in cleanups we try to avoid shutting down businesses. We try to clean and relocate equipment and work around company schedules to avoid shut downs. We cannot make such decisions until we know the nature and amount of any contamination.

Audience Member Comment - After learning that we had contamination on our property, we were told we could not operate and risk exposure to our employees. How will Stimson be able to operate if contamination is found on the mill property?

Answer - EPA cannot answer questions like this until after the sampling results are available and we understand the amount and nature of any contamination.

CAG Member Question - EPA has in the past used 1% asbestos concentration by volume to determine when emergency cleanup actions were needed. Has this action level taken into account the type of asbestos, serpentine or amphibole?

Answer - The 1% action level standard did not take into account the type of asbestos. For this reason EPA is conducting a risk assessment to attempt to take such factors as fiber type and size into account. Amphibole is more toxic.

CAG Member Comment - We should not let problems slide because cleanup may cause temporary job losses. Temporary job losses are better than loss of life. We need to weather the storm and achieve long-term cleanup. Things will then turn around for the better.

CARD Clinic Report

Pat Cohan reported that the CARD Clinic is seeking two additional community member for its advisory board. Applications are available from Ms. Cohan or at the Clinic.

Technical Assistance Grant

Clinton Maynard reported on the purpose and process for receiving a Technical Assistance Grant (TAG) from EPA. He also quoted from an EPA brochure on Superfund TAGs. According to the brochure, Congress established the TAG Program in 1986 to help affected communities understand and comment on site-related information, and thus participate in cleanup decisions. Basic provisions of the TAG Program include:

  • Grants of up to $50,000 are available to community groups for hiring technical advisors to help the community understand site-related technical information. Additional funding may be available for unusually large or complex sites.
    The group must contribute 20 percent of the total project costs to be supported by TAG funds. This requirement can be met with cash, donated supplies, and volunteered services.
  • The group must prepare a plan for using the funds.
• There may be only one TAG award per NPL site.

A group applying for a TAG must be nonprofit and incorporated or working towards incorporation. Mr. Maynard recommended that the CAG obtain non-profit status and apply for a TAG.

Audience Member Comment - The city or county could apply for a TAG.

Response - The City of Libby or Lincoln County would not be eligible. According to the EPA brochure, the following groups are not eligible for TAG awards:

  • People or companies potentially responsible for or contributing to the contamination problems at a site;
  • Academic institutions;
  • Political subdivisions; and
• Groups, such as counties or cities, established or supported by governments.

Comment by Duc Nguyen - The CAG would be the perfect group to apply. EPA cannot always be right. Using a TAG, the CAG could hire a technical assistant to advise homeowners facing a cleanup. The assistant could also translate technical information for the community.

Audience Member Question - If the CAG received a TAG, who would administer the funds from it?

Answer - The TAG guidelines allow expenditure of 20% of the funds for administration. The CAG could hire someone to administer it.

CAG Member Question - How long would it take to receive a grant?

Answer - According to Diana Hammer, assuming the CAG obtains non-profit status, the grant would be awarded about six weeks after applying.

CAG Member Question - Is there an application period for a TAG?

Answer - No. Application can be made at any time.

CAG Action - Because several members were not present for this meeting, the CAG agreed to take up the question of whether it should apply for a TAG at its next meeting.

Webmaster note: Further information on EPA´s Technical Assitance Grant program is available on the Web, at the TAG Home page.

Proposed Letters

Gayla Benefield reported on an opinion piece by past EPA Administrator Carol Browner published in the Missoulian. According to Administrator Browner, when the Superfund was established it was based on the principle that the polluter should pay. The law therefore established a tax on the oil and chemical industries and directed that money from this tax be used to fund Superfund cleanups. This tax expired in 1995, and President Clinton was not successful in convincing the Congress to extend it. The Bush Administration recently announced that it will not seek to re-institute the tax. After this year, the Superfund will have only $28 million and by 2004 will depend on annual Congressional appropriations to pay for Superfund activities such as the cleanup in Libby. Ms. Benefield recommended that the CAG send the letter to Senator Baucus and Congressman Rehberg asking them to introduce legislation to re-authorize the Superfund corporate tax, to ensure long-term funding for the Superfund program and comprehensive and timely clean-up for the community of Libby and other Superfund sites nation-wide. The letter to Congressman Rehberg would be the same as the letter to Senator Baucus except that it would not include the paragraph beginning, "As senior member of the Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxins..."

Member Comment - The same letter sent to Congressman Rehberg should also be sent to Senator Burns.

Member Comment - While I support sending the letter, perhaps taxpayers should pay for the Superfund cleanups. If they did, maybe they would pay more attention to environmental problems. Libby is an example where citizens became complacent.

CAG Action - The CAG agreed unanimously to send the letters to Senators Baucus and Burns and Congressman Rehberg with copies to Administrator Whitman and Jack McGraw the Acting Administrator of EPA Region 8. It directed its facilitator to sign the letters on its behalf and include a list of CAG members present at this meeting. The CAG further directed its facilitator to send the letters out via email to CAG members not present today and offer them a chance to have their names added to the list of those present.

Public Comment

Audience Member Comment - The state of Montana has moved to dismiss the personal injury lawsuits against it on the grounds that the state does not have a duty to protect its citizens.

Audience Member Question - What happened to the video taping of CAG meetings?

Answer - The school district is intending to video tape them and show them on the local cable television channel. However, we have not yet obtained the necessary equipment to do so. We will train the school children during April. If we have not found another source of funding by then, the school district may have to find the money.

CAG Member Question - What is the cost of the needed equipment?

Answer - About $1,200 for computer equipment, software, and a video camera.

CAG Member Comment - EPA now pays for mailings. It seems logical to ask EPA to purchase the needed equipment.

Audience Member Question - Could we have an update from the City about the status of the export plant site?

Answer by George Bauer - We don't have anything to report.

Answer by Duc Nguyen - EPA is working with Millwork West and W.R. Grace on the decontamination of the planer. Before moving it we will test it, clean it, and test it again to ensure that no cross contamination would occur at the new site. The contents of the remaining building will be inventoried and the building will be demolished and the soils will be cleaned. We anticipate that the planer will be moved in May or June.

Audience Member Question - Does the City have plans for an industrial park on the export plant site after the move occurs?

Answer by George Bauer - The City will probably lay a sewer line to the property. We may request some of the $8 million economic grant for this purpose.

Answer by Alan Stringer - W.R. Grace will install a new water line to the property. We are in discussion with BN to put a water line beneath the railroad tracks.

Next Meeting

The next meeting is scheduled for March 28, 2002 from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. in the Ponderosa Room of Libby City Hall.

Appendix 1

CAG Member & Guest Attendance List
March 14, 2002


Group/Organization Represented

K.W. Maki

Libby School District

Gary Spencer


Mick Mills


Duc Nguyen


LeRoy Thom

Former Grace Employee

Gayla Benefield


Gary D. Swenson

Libby Volunteer Fire Department

Kenneth Hays

Senior Citizens

Robert H. Foote

Libby Ministerial Association

Eileen Carney

State Representative

Clinton Maynard

Area Asbestos Research Group

Norita Skramstad

Asbestos Victim

Photos courtesy of Dudley Dana, Dana Gallery