Lessons from Libby, Montana: Mining, Asbestos, and Public Health

July 24, 2013
1:00 pm US Eastern Time

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There is no scientific evidence suggesting that safe levels of asbestos exposure are attainable. Asbestos exposure is linked to the development of numerous respiratory diseases, including mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and pleural disease. A federal report on asbestos in Ambler, Alaska, recommends that gravel in a local quarry not be used due to asbestos contamination and subsequent public health risks. Yet there are reports that this gravel is being used for road and home construction within Ambler during this summer’s building season. This happened soon after state legislation (HB 258) was passed “providing immunity for the state and for landowners, extractors, suppliers, transporters, and contractors for certain actions or claims arising in connection with the use of gravel or aggregate material containing naturally occurring asbestos in certain areas”—opening up the Ambler deposit to construction uses across the state.

On this call hosted by CHE-Alaska, Michelle Boltz, nurse practitioner with the Center for Asbestos Related Disease (CARD) in Libby, Montana, discussed health risks of asbestos exposure and how exposure to a unique type of asbestos known as Libby amphibole asbestos has resulted in hundreds of illnesses and deaths. Occupational and non-occupational environmental exposures associated with vermiculate mining and milling operations have resulted in the entire town being designated as a Superfund site and public health emergency. Speakers also addressed asbestosr-related disease and resources for identifying potential health risks associated with asbestos fiber inhalation, plus models of community response to widespread asbestos contamination.

Featured Speaker

Michelle Boltz is a nurse practitioner with the Center for Asbestos Related Disease (CARD) in Libby, Montana. She provides asbestos-related health screening and chronic asbestos disease management for local and long-distance patients. Michelle is part of four generations who have made Libby, Montana, their home. She received a Master of Science in nursing through Washington State University and practiced family medicine in Noorviq, Alaska, before returning to Montana in 2011. Working closely with CARD’s team of providers, Ms. Boltz has developed specialized skills in monitoring Libby amphibole asbestos disease while encouraging overall health and wellness.