BILLINGS, Mont. - Federal regulators knew potentially contaminated bark and wood chips were being sold from a Superfund site in the asbestos-tainted town of Libby, Mont., for three years before they stopped the practice, according to a letter from the Environmental Protection Agency to Senator Max Baucus.
The Democrat asked for an investigation into the contaminated scrap piles at a defunct timber mill in response to an Associated Press story that detailed how the wood chips and bark had been widely used as landscaping material by residents and government officials.
Asbestos from a W.R. Grace mine in Libby has killed an estimated 400 people.
The EPA previously said it learned last fall that the wood chips and bark stockpiled at the former Stimson Lumber mill were being sold by a local economic development official. But in the July 14 letter to Baucus, the agency acknowledges it knew of the sales since at least October 2007.
The EPA found asbestos in samples it took from the piles in 2007 but never quantified how much.
The agency is now trying to gauge the health risk. Results from additional testing are expected this summer.