file under: Environment, North America, United States, Federal Government, Emergency Response, Program Management

Restoring Hope in Libby

Program management of a community-wide asbestos emergency response


For 70 years, vermiculite was mined and processed in Libby for use as insulation and soil amendments, and a substantial amount of the product was donated to the community for various uses. Unfortunately, the Libby-mined vermiculite was contaminated with naturally occurring asbestos. In 1999, nearly a decade after the mine closed, elevated death rates in Libby from asbestos fibers in the vermiculite triggered a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emergency investigation and response.


Since 1999, CDM Smith has served as the prime architect and engineering consultant for the EPA’s Libby project through various contracts with the U.S. Department of Transportation, Volpe Center and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District. Over the last decade and a half, we have provided insightful, consistent program management from initial emergency sampling to ongoing remediation and restoration in an extensive, accelerated Superfund cleanup across a 180-square-mile area.

The initial contaminant screening study of more than 4,200 properties was the largest single-season field investigation in EPA history. Results identified 1,400 properties with elevated contamination levels, enabling EPA to prioritize properties needing immediate cleanup. A streamlined removal design and cleanup process cleaned up 200 high-priority properties in 15 months, rapidly reducing the overall risk to the community. The compressed and cost-saving process set the precedent for future “mega-site” Superfund cleanups.

New analytical methods and detection levels were established for Libby amphibole asbestos, saving significant investigation costs, with these dollars redirected to property cleanups. CDM Smith assisted the EPA in developing cutting-edge investigation technologies, such as activity-based sampling, designed to help establish a relationship between asbestos in source media and breathing zone air to assess inhalation risk. Over the course of the cleanup, we have collected more than 150,000 environmental samples including air, soil, bulk construction material, water and dust.
From initial emergency mobilization through cleanup and restoration, more than 300 CDM Smith employees from approximately 50 offices have supported the project in site investigations, design development, construction oversight, data management, and community involvement. The CDM Smith field team now includes more than 20 project staff, and 11 of these have relocated to Libby to support the project full time.

CDM Smith has completed remedial investigation reports, assisted in the development of site-wide risk assessments, including the first-of-its-kind ecological risk assessment for asbestos, and is currently developing the site-wide feasibility study. In addition to supporting investigation and cleanup efforts, CDM Smith continues to support the EPA with the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) process. We have assisted EPA in reaching records of decision at two of the eight operable units.


To date, the project has included investigation of more than 6,800 commercial, residential, and public properties; cleanup of more than 2,000 properties; and removal of about 1 million cubic yards of asbestos-contaminated waste. More than $400 million has been spent in Libby and nearby Troy on the Superfund cleanup, protecting public health while boosting the local economy.

Our work throughout this extended project has earned numerous safety awards from the National Safety Council for hours worked safely. We were awarded the Montana Governor’s Safety Award in 2009, and in 2013, the CDM Smith field office achieved Star Status in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Voluntary Protection Program.

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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency