Time and money prioritized at Asbestos Superfund meeting

The five members of the Libby Asbestos Superfund Advisory Team discussing proposed IC’s at last week’s meeting in Libby. Photo by Tracy McNew, The Montanian.

By Tracy McNew

The Libby Asbestos Superfund Advisory Team met in Libby on Thursday, March 8 at 6 p.m. at the county courthouse.
This was the group’s third quarterly meeting since being formed by Senate Bill 315 in 2017. Both prior meetings were held in Helena.
Approximately 20 people attended the two and a half hour meeting with a few additional attendees participating by phone.

The Libby Asbestos Superfund Advisory Team was formed to advise Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and enhance communication with stakeholders at the superfund site. DEQ will assume primary responsibility for the Libby Asbestos Superfund site when EPA’s remediation is complete. Locally, the site also lies within the jurisdiction of the City-County Board of Health (BOH).
The Asbestos Superfund Advisory Team is comprised of five members which including DEQ Director, Tom Livers, Lincoln County Commissioner, Mark Peck, a citizen member nominated locally and selected by the governor, George Jamison, Representative Steve Gunderson, and Senator Chas Vincent.

Their meeting started with approval of minutes from their Dec. 2017 meeting, a review of their current budget, and a discussion of the Libby Liaison job which is now open to applicants.
The Libby liaison will be a full time DEQ employee who facilitates quarterly advisory team meetings and represents the interests of Lincoln County and the State in working with federal agencies related to the Libby Superfund site.

The majority of the advisory team meeting was then spent reviewing a report compiled by Libby’s Institutional Control (IC) Steering Committee.
The IC Steering Committee was developed to advise the City-County Board of Health (BOH).
The group includes seven local residents who, according to Jamison, met 12-15 times in the development of their report which will be presented to and likely adopted by the BOH at their upcoming meeting scheduled for Thursday, March 15.

The report was reviewed by George Jamison who is a member of all three groups, the BOH, the IC steering committee, and the Asbestos Superfund Advisory Team.
ICs are ways to minimize the potential for human exposure to asbestos and to protect the integrity of the completed cleanup.
The IC steering committee’s recommended IC program has ten elements including 1. management by Lincoln County’s Asbestos Resource Program (ARP) or a similar entity, 2. ongoing availability of resources much like EPA and ARP currently offer, 3. education about the programs, 4. information acquisition and dissemination at no cost to the public, 5. a no cost local contractor permit program for abatement, 6. Libby asbestos related health resources including health services and research priorities, 7. other government land use controls such as zoning, 8. local government support of the BOH, 9. some punitive actions for enforcement, and 10. maintenance of the public health emergency declaration for healthcare and cleanup resources.
The full IC Steering Committee report is available online at deq.mt.gov.

Following review of the report, an update on ARP activities was delivered by program manager, Noah Pyle.
ARP works with the UDIG program, performs inspections, provides education, works with the landfill on asbestos disposal, helps to facilitate transfer of the superfund site’s clean-up related data to DEQ, and works with EPA contractors to ensure that best management practices will be followed at the site in the future.
Near the end of the meeting, DEQ’s Jenny Chambers emphasized the importance of timing. The superfund site’s operable units 4 and 7 (Libby and Troy) are anticipated to be fully remediated by September of this year, she said. The areas will then be in the operational and functional (O&F) phase for one year before transitioning to operations and maintenance (O&M).
“We really need to move forward now,” said Chambers, regarding decisions on O&M.
The goal of O&M is to ensue that the cleanup remains successfully in place to protect human health and the environment. O&M is accomplished, in part, by using ICs so a functional IC program needs to be in place by September 2019.

Open discussion and public comments followed and concluded the meeting with time primarily spent focusing on financial concerns.
Mark Peck emphasized that ICs would never work and the cleanup would never be protected if citizens had to pay for the costs of future testing and abatement.
“Somehow,” Peck said, “we’ve got to figure out a way to not put this on the back of the citizens of Lincoln County.”
Peck said that it’s time for senior executives to sit down and hammer the issue of money to pay for ICs out. He said, “this 10,000 pound gorilla keeps sitting over there in the corner.”
The BOH agrees that citizens cannot bear the costs of future clean-up. On Jan. 10, they adopted the following statement. “Indiscriminate protection of human health and the environment will serve as the universal criterion for all O&M related actions and activities. Further, property owners will not bear the cost of any future issues related to the Libby Asbestos Superfund Site. Support of or participation in O&M elements will be based on this position.”

Consensus was not reached however and concern was expressed that the Record of Decision (ROD) issued by EPA may hold citizens responsible for future costs.
All parties involved agreed that the issue will remain at the forefront of the agenda until resolved so that meaningful action can be taken on ICs.