A new study of the residents of Libby, Mont., confirms that even people who don't work with asbestos can have lung abnormalities caused by the mineral. The "striking, very disturbing" findings indicate that asbestos released from mining or manufacturing operations may pose health threats to entire communities, says Christopher P. Weis of the Environmental Protection Agency in Denver.
Research in the late 1970s linked high rates of the lung cancer mesothelioma among miners working for W.R. Grace & Co. in Libby to their inhalation of asbestos from the town's vermiculite mine. Studies elsewhere found that workers who processed Libby's vermiculite, a mineral used in insulation and potting soil, also have high rates of mesothelioma and other lung problems. The government subsequently issued warnings and regulations to reduce occupational asbestos exposures.