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Libby Cleanup

Two steps forward

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Vindication has come in small increments for the men who made their concerns over the Environmental Protection Agency’s cleanup of Libby public in the July 27 issue of the Independent.

Dr. Gerry Henningsen, Gordon Sullivan, Abe Troyer and Clinton Maynard all maintain that EPA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) investigator Cory Rumple completed a report supporting their belief that asbestos exposure in Libby continues, and that the EPA cleanup has not been based on sound science.

When the Independent filed a Freedom of Information Act request for Rumple’s report, the OIG responded that it could neither confirm nor deny its existence.

The Independent appealed the OIG decision, and this month received a response. While the OIG continues to withhold the report, now on the new grounds that it was a FOIA-exempt communication between Rumple and his supervisor, it finally acknowledged the report’s existence.

Also on Oct. 10, the EPA decided it would no longer circulate a brochure titled “Living with Vermiculite.” Maynard, Henningsen, Sullivan and Troyer had cited that brochure as proof of the EPA minimizing the risk of asbestos exposure in Libby. The brochure advised Libby residents on how to handle vermiculite, the asbestos-contaminated mineral W.R. Grace & Co. mined just outside the town.

Since “Living with Vermiculite” was first issued in October 2003, Maynard has been one of its most outspoken critics, demanding that the agency pull the brochure.

“I don’t even know how to act,” Maynard told the Independent, describing his elation that the brochure had been pulled.

“It’s been a long battle,” he says. “Somebody finally listened.”

The listener, Maynard says, was Paul Peronard, the man who led the initial EPA cleanup of Libby, and who returned to his post as remedial project manager this August.

Peronard says he understands the impetus for the brochure’s creation.

“We have folks coming into contact with vermiculite in Libby with some frequency,” he says.

“The rub,” he continues, is that “a lot of folks thought it downplayed the risks,” making vermiculite seem too easy to handle.

“If I had my druthers” Peronard says, “it would just be, ‘Stay the hell away from the stuff.’”

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