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Published: July 2010

Exposure to Asbestos-Containing Vermiculite Ore and Respiratory Symptoms among Individuals Who Were Children While the Mine Was Active in Libby, Montana

Published By: Environmental Health Perspectives

Contributors: Lisa C. Vinikoor, Theodore C. Larson, Thomas F. Bateson, and Linda Birnbaum


Libby, Montana, was home to the largest vermiculite ore mine in the United States. The processing, use, and transport of the ore, which was contaminated with amphibole asbestos, led to generalized contamination of the community. The mine closed in 1990.


We examined the prevalence of respiratory symptoms in 2000–2001 and their association with history of vermiculite exposure among people who were ? 18 years of age when the mine closed.


Information on respiratory symptoms and exposure history was collected by questionnaire in 2000–2001, at which time participants were 10–29 years old. Logistic regression was used to model the associations between exposures and outcomes adjusted for age, sex, and tobacco smoke exposure.


Of the 1,003 individuals included in the study, 10.8% reported usually having a cough, 14.5% reported experiencing shortness of breath when walking up a slight hill or hurrying on level ground, and 5.9% reported having coughed up bloody phlegm in the past year. These respiratory symptoms were positively associated with frequently handling vermiculite insulation compared with never handling vermiculite insulation. We found no association between vermiculite insulation in the house and respiratory symptoms. Respiratory symptoms were associated with other vermiculite exposures as well, and the number and frequency of these activities showed a positive trend with usually having a cough. We found no association between any of the activities and abnormal spirometry.


These data suggest that residents of Libby, Montana, who were children when the mine closed experienced some respiratory symptoms associated with asbestos-contaminated vermiculite exposure.

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