EPA’s Public Health Emergency is needed for healthcare

Recently there has been talk that the EPA should withdraw their public health emergency (PHE) declaration at the Libby asbestos site. This comes as Superfund site clean-up in town slowly draws to a close. I believe the idea to withdraw the EPA’s PHE designation comes from a desire to promote economic development and tourism. I wholeheartedly agree that Libby needs to move beyond the stigma of asbestos contamination and grow our economy. I am very concerned however, that the consequences of this action may impact our community adversely.     
If the EPA were to lift the site’s PHE designation, the results could be detrimental. Health benefits, including free asbestos health screening, access to Medicare, and the Pilot Program, are contingent on the PHE designation. All of these important benefits would all go away along with the PHE designation. This means that thousands would be adversely impacted. The free asbestos health screening program that has served over 5,000 people would go away. Medicare access for nearly 2,000 people under the age of 65 who wouldn’t normally be eligible for Medicare would also go away. Weekly Pilot Program services used by over 400 people would be terminated.  This would create a medical hardship for approximately 2,400 patients potentially denying them medical coverage.
 The last thing Libby needs is an asbestos health crisis in addition to our mental health crisis. Our hospital’s 2017 community survey identified asbestos related disease as the number one community health concern. CARD is the only clinic, anywhere, that specializes in Libby amphibole asbestos related healthcare. The clinic has served over 7,000 patients to date. They provide asbestos health screening, lung cancer screening, outreach, education, ongoing healthcare, case management, and research to improve community health while contributing to scientific understanding on an international scale. With the loss of CARD’s health programs, the loss of CARD’s funding and  jobs, and the loss of millions of dollars from our local economy, our community would be devastated.   
Libby’s superfund site is divided into eight parts. All of them are at varying stages in the Superfund process. The commercial and residential areas of Libby and Troy are about to finish the clean-up phase, but there will be at least a year of operational and function monitoring before these sites can be delisted from Superfund. The W.R. Grace mine site is still in the remedial investigation and feasibility study stage, so a timeline hasn’t even been developed yet. Superfund isn’t going away anytime soon, but we can still move forward.
 I urge Lincoln County to encourage economic development and tourism and to boast that we’re now clean and safe. The clean-up is nearly complete, and our air quality is better than most. Let’s move beyond the stigma of asbestos not by ignoring our past, but by understanding it and using all available resources to help us along the way.
Jim Devlin, Board President, Center for Asbestos Related Disease, Libby, Mont.