Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing. Part of the EPA’s mission is to protect the public health from environmental degradation. Perhaps nowhere is this challenge greater than in the town of Libby Montana. Just listen to the story of Mel and Lerah Parker.
In 1993 they bought a little piece of land along the Kootenai River from W.R. Grace and company. This land was the site of W.R. Grace’s screening plant, but to Mel and Lerah it was the perfect spot to start their own business, Rain Tree Greenhouses. They worked hard, built their business, and by the late 1990s they had the largest nursery in the state of Montana.
Then in 1999 the extent of asbestos contamination was uncovered, and the Parker’s world literally came crashing down. The EPA had to tear down their outbuildings, their greenhouses, and their home. The EPA even had to destroy their cars and many of their personal belongings.
For several years the Parkers rented a house. Lerah Parker was recently diagnosed with Asbestosis. Because of the huge loss they took with their business, they will never rebuild their greenhouses, but the Parkers are resolute. They hope to one day rebuild a house on their little piece of property along the Kootenai River.
This is just one story from Libby. There are hundreds of others, many of them even more tragic. Tremolite asbestos from the W.R. Grace vermiculite mine has killed some 200 area residents and sickened hundreds more.
Assistant Administrator Bodine, I hope to impress upon you just how important it is that the EPA get the cleanup in Libby right. In all of my years as an elected official this issue of doing what is right for Libby is among the most personally compelling things I have ever been called on to do. I’ve been to Libby 18 times since 2000 and every time I go the devastation is worse and worse. More people are sick and dying. Helping the people of Libby is a very personal fight for me. I want to do all I can to get Libby residents the help they need and deserve. It’s the right thing to do for both the victims and the future generations we can still protect.
That’s why I was completely outraged to learn just last week the workers digging a waterline discovered a patch of tremolite asbestos near the surface 8 to 12 inches thick, 3 feet wide and 20 feet long on a site that was supposed to have been cleaned up, not once but twice, the first time by W.R. Grace and the second time by EPA itself. Compounding the offense is the fact that the workers were digging a waterline that was intended to serve the park that features the asbestos victims’ memorial. It’s not right. It’s totally unacceptable.
Given such outrageous failures, how can the EPA ever assure folks like the Parkers that it is safe to rebuild their homes?
According to EPA’s own calculations there are 16 exposure pathways that exist in Libby. Asbestos exposure can occur via the dust, soil, air, and other media at commercial and residential sites. And cleanup has not even begun at Troy, Montana, which faces many of the same issues as Libby, including a school building that needs to be cleaned.
The discovery of tremolite asbestos in an area that was supposed to have been cleaned twice, calls much of the EPA’s work at Libby into question. What quality controls are in place to ensure that the remediation is adequate to protect the public health? How long will Troy have to wait before EPA begins their work?
The Parkers deserve better – all Libby residents deserve better. EPA needs to make Libby, Montana one of its top priorities. People are sick and dying and they need our help. I strongly urge the EPA to do their part and help to right the wrong that has been committed.
Mr. Chairman, the Parkers and hundreds of other Libby residents want to begin rebuilding their lives. Thank you for holding this hearing. I look forward to hearing the responses to my questions.