Walking the streets of Libby, Mont., on a hazy September day, it’s not uncommon to hear the cough of a local resident. The picturesque, blue-collar town about an hour southwest of the Canada-U.S. Border in Montana’s north was once bustling with jobs thanks to nearby vermiculite mines. The work helped line locals’ wallets with steady pay. And lined their lungs with toxic asbestos dust.
Years of remediation have helped make the town of about 2,700 safe again following what government officials called the worst case of industrial poisoning of a community in American history. But residents are still struggling to rebuild after hundreds died, and approximately 2,400 have been diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases.
Now, some are worried about another threat: selenium from coal mines more than 200 kilometres north in British Columbia that flows into rivers and lakes south of the border. They’re also troubled by the response — or lack thereof — from both Canadian officials and Teck Resources, the mining company, which is also considering an expansion.
Teck says its current scientific understanding indicates that, at present, selenium levels in the reservoir that supplies the town are safe. Teck also notes that it is working toward the goal of “stabilizing and reducing the selenium trend” in B.C.‘s Elk Valley, upriver from the reservoir.
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