Hazardous Materials: EPA’s Assessment of Sites That May Have Received Asbestos-Contaminated Ore from Libby, Montana (GAO-09-7SP, March 2009), an E-supplement to GAO-09-6R

Read the Full Report Hazardous Materials: Status of EPA’s Efforts to Assess Sites That May Have Received Asbestos-Contaminated Ore from Libby, Montana (GAO-09-6R)


Vermiculite, a fibrous mineral with many commercial and industrial uses, was mined in Libby, Montana, from 1923 through the early 1990s, when the mine was closed. While the mine was operating, ore was shipped to hundreds of processing and receiving sites throughout the United States. The vermiculite ore from the Libby mine was contaminated with asbestos. In 2000, EPA began cleaning up asbestos contamination in the Libby area under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). In the same year, under CERCLA, EPA also began identifying and evaluating the sites that were thought to have received the ore to determine if any of these sites needed to be cleaned up. As of January 2009, with assistance from other federal and state agencies, EPA has assessed 266 sites that were thought to have received asbestos-contaminated ore from the Libby mine. This document presents detailed information about each of these sites, including the site’s location, amount of ore received, and type of facility, as well as whether EPA visited the site, conducted sampling, and completed further action, if needed.

Scope and Methodology

Because of a pending federal criminal case against W.R. Grace (the company that owned the Libby vermiculite mine and some of the facilities that processed ore from the mine), we designed our methodology to minimize direct contact with EPA staff. To obtain information on the current status of efforts to assess and address potential risks at each of the sites identified as potentially receiving the Libby ore, we asked EPA to review for accuracy and completeness a list of vermiculite sites that we originally obtained from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). This list was largely based on site data that ATSDR had obtained from EPA. For each site, the data included the location, type of facility, amount of ore received, and limited information on the results of EPA’s evaluation. EPA officials located in the agency’s headquarters and regional offices reviewed the list of sites and provided comments and clarifications. We also submitted questions in writing to EPA to clarify some of the information it provided, and EPA provided its responses in writing. Also, we collected and analyzed relevant documentation about the sites from EPA’s Superfund record centers, which are public repositories, and collected and analyzed health consultation reports that ATSDR had prepared for selected sites. To the extent possible, we used the information from the record centers and the health consultations to verify the site information EPA provided. However, we did not independently verify the information EPA provided.

We conducted this engagement from December 2007 to March 2009 in accordance with all sections of GAO’s Quality Assurance Framework that are relevant to our objectives. The framework requires that we plan and perform the engagement to obtain sufficient and appropriate evidence to meet our stated objective and to discuss any limitations in our work. We believe the information and data obtained, and the analysis conducted, provide a reasonable basis for any findings and conclusions. A more detailed description of our scope and methodology is presented in enclosure II of our report entitled Hazardous Materials: Status of EPA’s Efforts to Assess Sites That May Have Received Asbestos-Contaminated Ore from Libby, Montana GAO-09-6R (Washington, D.C.: March 10, 2009). For additional information about EPA’s assessment of the sites, see our October 2007 report entitled Hazardous Materials: EPA May Need to Reassess Sites Receiving Asbestos-Contaminated Ore from Libby, Montana, and Should Improve Its Public Notification Process, (Washington, D.C.: October 12, 2007). GAO-08-71.

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