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Guest Article by Krista Peterson

posted Apr 19, 2011, 2:18 PM by MT. beartrax
This special guest article is about an issue many of us in Montana are very aware of – it comes from Krista Peterson, a 23-year old-aspiring writer and recent graduate of the University of Central Florida. Krista is a health and safety advocate who has a passion for the wellness of communities and our environment–which comes, in part, from seeing several of her family members struggle with cancer and other illnesses. Krista tells me that she would like to spread awareness of health and environmental issues through her writing; she plans to attend graduate school to get her master’s degree in Sustainability and Environmental Management. Feel free to contact Krista at krista.peterson925@gmail.com.
Settlement nearing for asbestos victims in Montana

For over 10 years now, legal battles have continued on here in Montana over health problems connected to asbestos mine in Libby, Montana. For over 1000 people that were victim to asbestos exposure, a settlement may put an end to this decade long fight to seek some support in return for the high numbers of health problems that inhabited the town.

It’s being reported by multiple media sources that a settlement close to $43 million will be levied out to the thousands of victims in Libby. It’s very unfortunate that such a high number of these victims never even had direct exposure to the vermiculite asbestos mine. Spouses and family members of mine workers were unknowingly at a high risk of exposure as well. As workers came home with asbestos particles on their uniforms, their family often felt repercussions of this type of exposure.

With thousands affected, there will be an average payment of around $30,000 to $50,000 from the state. There will determining factors on the level of payment. It will be separated into three payment levels and determined by the level of health problems.  The legal implications of this situation began over 10 years ago when a smaller group of victims felt betrayed that they weren’t given any type of warning on asbestos exposure and the connected health risks. The victims essentially fought that the state was essentially acting as an accomplice to the mining company which attempted to hide the health risks.

In 2004, the turning point in the actual case came when the Montana Supreme Court claimed that the state needed to give warning to workers about the possible health problems that were previously identified. It was even concluded that the company likely knew about the asbestos danger in Libby all the way back to 1956, as the result of a site inspection. A financial settlement has been on the negotiation block ever since this ruling seven years ago.

The health risks (mesothelioma, asbestosis) that many of these victims have been exposed to are quite problematic. What makes the diseases so threatening is the fact that they have long latency periods and bleak outlooks, for example mesothelioma life expectancy is eight to 14 months on average.

The recent settlement has brought forth more controversy with victims of exposure. Although they are getting forms of payment for medical bills, the mining company and the state are being dismissed of any future claims in the process. Many of the victims see this as a chance to sweep the health risks away, pay off the problem, and forget all about it. Further complicating this process is the fact that victims were told to stay quiet through the legal battle, thus to not speak to media or have the case blow up in the press.