Welcome to Libby, Montana, population 2,691 —  a town forever changed by asbestos.
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EWG Action Fund

Welcome to Libby, Montana, population 2,691.

In many ways, Libby is like any other small town. It sits nestled between bits of national forest, it has a train station and a few schools (go Loggers!), and for many years its economy was supported by the nearby logging and mining operations.

But in other ways, Libby is very different.


Downtown Libby, Montana. Image: U.S. EPA.

Libby has a heartbreaking story to tell.

For decades, the company W.R. Grace operated a vermiculite mine in Libby. Vermiculite is a mineral used for insulation and fireproofing in many building materials. (By the way, it's also the material used for those little white balls in potting soil.)

The vermiculite mine in Libby provided ... over 70% of all vermiculite sold in the U.S. between 1919 and 1990.

The vermiculite mine in Libby provided hundreds of jobs, as well as over 70% of all vermiculite sold in the U.S. between 1919 and 1990. And while vermiculite itself isn't known to be harmful, the Libby mine also included a large deposit of something much more dangerous: asbestos.

The asbestos in Libby's mine has caused 400 deaths — and counting.

Mining the vermiculite that lay alongside asbestos released harmful asbestos fibers into the air. The asbestos appeared as a fine dust that coated the entire mine — it got everywhere — and caused harm not only to the mine workers, but to their friends, family, and other town residents as well.

But it's never easy to criticize a company that plays such a huge role in a town's life. In the 2004 documentary "Libby, Montana" by High Plains Films, one resident explained:

"[W.R.] Grace was on the school board, Grace was on the hospital board, Grace owned the bank. And when you talked about dust control here and ... what [the dust] was doing harmful to these people here, the first thing to come out of their mouth was 'You gonna close that mine down, and you gonna put all these people out of work?' Well you didn't have very many friends here when you started talking like that."

Mine manager Earl Lovick held town positions outside the mine. Images: "Libby, Montana."

Fast-forward to today: An estimated 400 people in Libby have died from asbestos-related diseases, and more than 2,000 have been sickened by the asbestos. Hundreds more deaths are expected from these diseases, as they can take decades to manifest.

Records show that W.R. Grace knew about the adverse health effects from asbestos in the mine many years before the mine's closure in 1990. Mine manager Earl Lovick, who died of asbestosis in 1999, testified to having knowledge of the presence and dangers of asbestos. (Check out 9:46 and 12:24 in the video below for clips of Lovick's statements.)

The company has since paid out millions of dollars in settlement money for civil cases concerning the effects of the asbestos. In 2008, W.R. Grace faced thousands of personal injury claims and agreed to settle all present and future claims via a trust. The amount of money they're doling out is nearly incomprehensible. But does it really make up for the deaths and the sickness?

Libby continues to heal ... slowly but surely.

In 1999, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency responded to widespread concerns surrounding the asbestos in Libby. The agency collected hundreds of samples from around Libby. In 2002, the site was declared a Superfund site, and cleanup began.

A 2014 draft of the EPA's human health risk assessment states, "It is now possible to live and work in Libby without excessive exposure to asbestos. ... Remaining asbestos needs to be safely managed."

The asbestos risk may be under control (or close to it), but that doesn't mean the people of Libby have forgotten how W.R. Grace changed the course of their town's history.

Here's an excerpt from High Plains Films' documentary "Libby, Montana," which tells the story of asbestos exposure in Libby:

Courtesy of Macy's

Brantley and his snowman

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"Would you like to build a snowman?" If you asked five-year-old Brantley from Texas this question, the answer would be a resounding "Yes!" While it may sound like a simple dream, since Texas doesn't usually see much snow, it seemed like a lofty one for him, even more so because Brantley has a congenital heart disease.

On Dec. 11, 2019, however, the real Macy's Santa and his two elves teamed up with Make-A-Wish to surprise Brantley and his family on his way to Colorado where there was plenty of snow for him to build his very own snowman, fulfilling his wish as part of the Macy's Believe campaign. After a joy-filled plane ride where every passenger got gift bags from Macy's, the family arrived in Breckenridge, Colorado where Santa and his elves helped Brantley build a snowman.

Brantley, Brantley's mom, and Santa marveling at their snowmanAll photos courtesy of Macy's

Brantley, who according to his mom had never actually seen snow, was blown away by the experience.

"Well, I had to build a snowman because snowmen are my favorite," Brantley said in an interview with Summit Daily. "All of it was my favorite part."

This is just one example of the more than 330,000 wishes the nonprofit Make-A-Wish have fulfilled to bring joy to children fighting critical illnesses since its founding 40 years ago. Even though many of the children that Make-A-Wish grants wishes for manage or overcome their illnesses, they often face months, if not years of doctor's visits, hospital stays and uncomfortable treatments. The nonprofit helps these children and their families replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy and anxiety with hope.

It's hardly an outlandish notion — research shows that a wish come true can help increase these children's resiliency and improve their quality of life. Brantley is a prime example.

"This couldn't have come at a better time because we see all the hardships that we went through last year," Brantley's mom Brandi told Summit Daily.

Brantley playing with snowballs

Now more than ever, kids with critical illnesses need hope. Since they're particularly vulnerable to disease, they and their families have had to isolate even more during the pandemic and avoid the people they love most and many of the activities that recharge them. That's why Make-A-Wish is doing everything it can to fulfill wishes in spite of the unprecedented obstacles.

That's where you come in. Macy's has raised over $132 million for Make-A-Wish, and helped grant more than 15,500 wishes since their partnership began in 2003, but they couldn't have done that without the support of everyday people. The crux of that support comes from Macy's Believe Campaign — the longstanding holiday fundraising effort where for every letter to Santa that's written online at Macys.com or dropped off safely at the red Believe mailbox at their stores, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. New this year, National Believe Day will be expanded to National Believe Week and will provide customers the opportunity to double their donations ($2 per letter, up to an additional $1 million) for a full week from Sunday, Nov. 29 through Saturday, Dec. 5.

There are more ways to support Make-A-Wish besides letter-writing too. If you purchase a $4 Believe bracelet, $2 of each bracelet will be donated to Make-A-Wish through Dec. 31. And for families who are all about the holiday PJs, on Giving Tuesday (Dec. 1), 20 percent of the purchase price of select family pajamas will benefit Make-A-Wish.

Elizabeth living out her wish of being a fashion designer

Additionally, this year's campaign features 6-year-old Elizabeth, a Make-A-Wish child diagnosed with leukemia, whose wish to design a dress recently came true. Thanks to the style experts at Macy's Fashion Office and I.N.C. International Concepts, only at Macy's, Elizabeth had the opportunity to design a colorful floral maxi dress. Elizabeth's exclusive design is now available online at Macys.com and in select Macy's stores. In the spirit of giving back this holiday season, 20 percent of the purchase price of Elizabeth's dress (through Dec. 31) will benefit Make-A-Wish.You can also donate directly to Make-A-Wish via Macy's website.

This holiday season may be a tough one this year, but you can bring joy to children fighting critical illnesses by delivering hope for their wishes to come true.

via 1POCNews / Twitter

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This year, we've all experienced a little more stress and anxiety. This is especially true for youth facing homelessness, like Megan and Lionel. Enter Covenant House, an international organization that helps transform and save the lives of more than a million homeless, runaway, and trafficked young people.

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