In Libby Montana, asbestos questions remain

Tri-City HeraldMay 24, 2010 

LIBBY, Mont. — Gayla Benefield and Eva Thomson are sisters who have grown used to death. For two decades, they have watched asbestos from a nearby vermiculite mine strangle their parents, Thomson's husband, an aunt, several in-laws and numerous neighbors and friends.

So as they wandered the Libby cemetery on a blustery Montana morning, they worked the graves like a block party - retelling old stories and commiserating with the dead.

Talk turned to their own fates.

Both sisters suffer from the microscopic asbestos fibers lodged deep in their lungs. Their breathing is sometimes choked by plaque building up around the fibers. If it progresses into cancerous mesothelioma, they face certain death.

"If you're lucky, you get hit by a truck and you go quickly," Benefield said, her face betraying no emotion but her voice tight with anger.

The sisters' town, Libby, population 3,000 along the Kootenai River, has emerged as the deadliest Superfund site in the nation's history.

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