Tester Works to Protect Libby from Wildfire Risk, Hold Corporations Accountable
(Billings, Mont.) – As fire season heats up, Senator Jon Tester is working hard to address Libby’s unique fire safety concerns and ensure W.R. Grace is held financially accountable for its role in contributing to the increased fire risk. Back in 2009, the EPA discovered a high concentration of asbestos across 73 square miles of the Kootenai National Forest surrounding the old W.R. Grace mine site, posing an increased risk to the public and to emergency personnel in the event of a wildfire.
“For decades, asbestos-laden dust traveled through the area from the vermiculite mine once operated by W .R. Grace,” Tester wrote in his letter to the U.S. Forest Service. “These fibers can become airborne during a wildfire and potentially have devastating long-term health impacts for those living and working in the area.”
The EPA and the Forest Service have been working together to establish a fire preparedness plan for this area, but this plan requires specialized training, equipment, and personnel-costing taxpayers an additional $2.1 million in 2016 alone. That’s why Tester reached out to the U.S. Forest Service, to make sure everything was being done to protect the people of Libby and those responsible were footing the bill.
“Given the unique nature of the risk, I want to work with you, the State of Montana, local communities, and public health experts to address the potential for further public health threats in the area,” Tester wrote. “I appreciate that the Forest Service and the EPA have proposed a joint plan for fire preparedness [but]…it is also important that W.R. Grace is appropriately held accountable for the significant additional costs associated with fire preparedness at the site.”
Tester also listed a number of specific concerns that he asked the Forest Service to address, including:
- Whether the Forest Service had enough resources and equipment to effectively respond to a large wildfire near Libby.
- The degree of coordination and information sharing between local, state, and federal officials on this issue.
- How many people might be at risk for asbestos exposure in the event of a large wildfire.
- Whether the agencies were getting cooperation and compensation from W.R. Grace.
Tester has a long track record of fighting for the health and safety of Libby after it was discovered that W.R. Grace’s mine was causing increased rates of cancer and other asbestos-related diseases among residents. Tester’s full letter can be found HERE.