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Reconnaissance study of the geology of U.S. vermiculite deposits: Are asbestos minerals common constituents?

June 1, 2002

Unusually high incidences of asbestos-related mortality and respiratory disease in the small town of Libby, Montana, have been linked to amphibole mineral fibers intergrown with the vermiculite deposits mined and milled near the town from 1923 to 1990. A study conducted by the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry concluded that mortality due to asbestosis in Libby mine and mill workers and residents during 1979 to 1998 was much higher than expected for a similar Montana or United States population group. Recent medical testing of past and present mineworkers and residents of Libby showed lung abnormalities in nearly one-fifth of the adult study participants. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, under Superfund authority, is completing sampling and cleanup of asbestos-bearing materials in the mine, mill, and town sites. The U.S. Geological Survey is conducting a study, reviewed herein, to investigate the mineral content of other U.S. vermiculite deposits and to determine if the amphibole asbestos minerals like those found in the Libby deposits are common in other vermiculite deposits.