"The Environmental Protection Agency yesterday declared its first-ever 'public health emergency,' saying the federal government will funnel $6 million to provide medical care for people sickened by asbestos from a mine in northwest Montana.
The declaration applies to the towns of Libby and Troy, where for decades workers dug for vermiculite, a mineral used in insulation. They were unknowingly poisoning themselves: The vermiculite was contaminated with a toxic form of asbestos, which workers carried home on their clothes.
The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that there are 500 people with asbestos-related illnesses such as lung cancer and asbestosis in the two towns, whose populations total about 3,900. "
David A. Fahrenthold reports for the Washington Post June 18, 2009.