The unit most recently retired from the NPL is Operational Unit Six. This announcement comes four years after the EPA finished cleaning up the area.
Operational Unit Six encompasses a 42-mile stretch of railroad tracks and rail yards. In the past, the railway line was used to transport asbestos-contaminated vermiculite from the mine.
The EPA will continue to be involved in the unit even though it is outside the NPL. Among other things, the EPA:
- Assist Montana state officials with annual inspection reports
- Conduct five-year reviews
Sites removed from the NPL are also still eligible for EPA funding if additional cleanup is found to be needed.
BNSF Railway will take over the daily management of the unit.
A railway company in charge of the future management of the section
BNSF Railway carried vermiculite contaminated with asbestos from the Libby mine, owned by WR Grace. A 2020 settlement placed them in the management of operational unit six. The settlement came after a Montana Supreme Court case earlier the same year. The case decided that BNSF Railway could not avoid asbestos liability for its operations.
Under the settlement agreement, BNSF’s management responsibilities will include:
- Restrict unauthorized entry into unit area
- Minimize the potential for ground disturbance
BNSF is not responsible for any further cleaning. As of now, the EPA does not expect any further cleanups to be required.
EPA expects to complete vermiculite mine cleanup proposal in 2024
The EPA has completed the cleaning of seven of the eight functional units. It rates units that have been cleaned but are still listed for removal from the NPL. The only unit left to clear is operational unit three, the vermiculite mine. Although the mine closed in 1990, the uncleared area continues to pose a risk to human health. The EPA expects to complete a proposed cleanup plan for Unit Three in 2024.
Asbestos from the vermiculite mine continues to affect residents. Due to the long latency period of mesothelioma, people exposed to asbestos decades ago may still be at risk. Residents who develop mesothelioma have treatment options available to them. Doctors at the Montana and Washington Cancer Centers can diagnose and treat this disease.