Libby, Montana

we walked to the bookstore and found a place to sit in the little theater provided for this purpose and listened to a very diminutive, shy-seeming (and pretty) young woman read from her book Libby, Montana and answer questions about the asbestos poisonings, civil lawsuits and class-actions against W.R. Grace (the owners of the vermiculite mine in Libby). This is the city my mother grew up in, and the sites the author talked and wrote about were the places my mother played in as a girl. It’s shocking to note that my mother has no noticeable traces of asbestosis or adverse effects, but several of her younger siblings do. Arguably this poisoning contributed to my grandfather’s death several years ago, and is listed on the death certificate for my step-grandmother’s stepfather (at least I think that’s the relation…I just remember he was deaf as a post and a total cat-lover). …My uncle continues to live in the family homestead on the edge of Libby to this day, surrounded by places closed to the public and condemned buildings. We concluded the EPA representative was there to answer questions about the legal and environmental details with the “suitable for public consumption” information the government pre-scrubbed. He was one of the original EPA agents sent to investigate allegations in the beginning. This same individual is involved here in Denver in an investigation and trial regarding environmental negligence, which has also landed on my mother indirectly (through her workplace, a local big name law firm and participant). There was one other attendee – apparently the son of a doctor from Libby – who had himself lived there for shy of twenty years. He said his father’s desire to conduct tests on mine employees was completely ignored. The author said she’d come across a letter from this same doctor to W.R. Grace.

That whole thing was rather sobering. The vermiculite produced at this mine can be found in nearly every state in the union, and was a large portion of the insulation in the World Trade Center – it’s that fact that has been largely responsible for bringing this nightmare to the public at all, since New York ended up breathing that dust cloud for days.

Karen said something later about how if mankind had the decency to kick off between 40 and 50 years old, none of this would matter because no one would live long enough to suffer the long-term effects of asbestosis. And she said something about man being the agent of the next earthly cleansing, much in the same way ice ages scrub the earth clean, so too shall mankind rid the planet of its present life forms. In a few millennia earth will have a new batch to populate it’s high and low places, and our mistakes will be forgotten.

I find that thought comforting.