RheumatologyIn the small town of Libby in northwestern Montana, prospectors in 1916 discovered an unusual mineral known as vermiculite that appeared to be resistant to fire after initial exposure to high heat.
The early owners of the mine called their product Zonolite, and for the next half century they dug it out of the Libby mountain and shipped it across the continent for use as insulation and in various commercial products.
Unfortunately, the mine and its product also contained asbestos, and by the 1980s, hundreds of the miners who worked at Zonolite mountain -- and their family members -- had sickened and died of asbestos-related diseases at rates 40 times higher than the U.S. as a whole.
Little was known outside of Libby about the cluster of diseases until 1999, when Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Andrew Schneider published a series of stories called "Uncivil Action: A Town Left to Die," which began by saying "First, it killed some miners. Then it killed wives and children, slipping into their homes on the dusty clothing of hard-working men. Now the mine is closed, but in Libby, the killing goes on."
Then in a 2004 book about the case, An Air that Kills: How the Asbestos Poisoning of Libby, Montana, Uncovered a National Scandal, Schneider and co-author David McCumber wrote, "The sickening of Libby was such a gradual thing. Like a person with asbestos-scarred lungs that are slowly losing their capacity, a town that is slowly dispatching its...
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