Health workers tracking Libby’s plight estimate at least 400 people have died of asbestos-related illnesses — from W.R. Grace mine workers and family members who breathed in the dust they brought home in their clothes, to those who played as kids in waste piles dumped by the company behind the community baseball field.
Some 1,500 locals and others who were exposed have chest X-rays revealing the faint, cloudy shadows of asbestos scarring on their lungs. Even though research long showed cause for concern — up to 70 percent of miners in a 1980s study had fibers in their lungs — it took news reports about the deaths to drive officials to action, beginning a decade ago.
After the cleanup began, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency confidently predicted it would be done in two years at a cost of $5.8 million. Ten years on, the price tag has exceeded $333 million, the deaths continue, and more asbestos keeps showing up — in schools, in businesses, in hundreds of houses.
The scope of contamination has at times overwhelmed environmental regulators, dragging out the cleanup, an Associated Press review of hundreds of pages of government documents and interviews with current and former agency officials revealed.
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