Libby, Montana

PBS Premiere: Aug. 28, 2007Check the broadcast schedule »

Ask Gayla

Lisa from Hawaii asks: Thank you for your efforts! What can outsiders do to help Libby residents and impact the government's efforts to repair the damages to Libby?

update_benefield.jpgGayla Benefield: Thank you for caring. You all can help by contacting your elected officials and directing them to information on Libby, Montana, and urging them to vote against legislation that gives corporations more power and less liability.

Currently, Senator Patty Murray of Washington State has a bill to outlaw asbestos within the U.S. I believe this bill is a good start.

Corey from Kansas asks: A year ago I remodeled our bedroom. When I ripped out one wall, vermiculite ran everywhere. I didn't know what it was at the time, so I shoveled it up and threw it out the window into my wagon. Do you t ink I need to look into having someone come check my place for asbestos? I have two small children I'm concerned about their health. Thanks so much!

Benefield: You do have a problem, Corey. I would like to say that it's possible your vermiculite didn't come from Libby, but the odds are against that. Therefore, you should find an abatement contractor who has experience or at least knowledge about amphobile fibers (our form of asbestos) and ask that it be tested.

Your first error was to disturb the insulation, the second error was to simply throw it into the back yard. You should have this area tested and possibly have the soil removed for the safety of your children. Until then, I would try to avoid this area.

Wesley from Oregon asks: While I have deep respect for the courage shown by Libby residents in the face of their suffering, I am baffled as to why residents of Montana and Idaho continue to elect Republican politicians. To me, it seems as though those politicians help and serve corporations like W.R. Grace rather than help ordinary, hard-working, middle class Americans. Can you shed any light on politics in Libby?

Benefield: This is one of my favorite subjects, but I don't have an answer. In Montana though, we finally have a Democratic Governor, a Republican Lieutenant Governor, Democratic leadership in the House and a tie in the Senate, but has this helped to progress the situation? No, because we still have an administration in Washington D.C. that simply wants us to go away so that the federal government won't have to clean up 35 million homes or pay for the healthcare of millions of people over the next 50 years. We are just a thorn in their sides, but we won't go away. Montana is no longer red, but ain't blue yet; I call it bruised.

RT from Arizon asks: Our home was built in 1970, and has vermiculite insulation in the attic. When we purchased it some ten years ago, I did some research on vermiculite and became concerned that it might have asbestos in it, but because the cost of testing for asbestos was so high, we decided not to test and blew about ten inches of cellulose on top of it. After watching Libby, Montana, I am now wondering if my family and I are at risk for asbestos-related diseases. What would you recommend we do?

Benefield: You and 35 million other people in the USA have same problem. For now, because of the high cost of removal, I would make sure that all light fixtures and fans in the ceiling are sealed with sealant. Also, your plug-ins should be sealed. Do not begin remodeling without consulting an abatement contractor. The best solution for now would be to not disturb the material and try to make sure that it isn't leaking into the living area through the above named areas.

For more information, you can contact the EPA, Region 8 website. This is dangerous material and one does not have to "see" the vermiculite to be exposed to the fibers. Just try to make your home as safe as possible for now until we come up with a solution.

Sandy from Pennsylvania asks: I watched Libby, Montana last night, and I was livid when your governor said "Let's just get along and quit looking for someone to blame." The officials at W.R. Grace knew how toxic asbestos was, and they should be held accountable for their silence. What do you think about the way W.R. Grace (through their publicity and their website) sugar coats the dangers of asbestos and their responsibility in the tragedy in Libby?

Benefield: You don't even want to know my thoughts about W.R. Grace! They will continue to deny that there is a problem in the same way as when they denied that their employees were dying, until it was proven otherwise in court.