Subscribe for 17¢ / day

Gazette State Bureau

LIBBY — Even as the debate rages over creating a Superfund designation for Libby, one fact rarely comes up in the discussion: The town already has done time on the nation’ s list of the most dangerous environmental hazards.

A National Priorities List label for Libby’s asbestos problems would make for the second time this town has made the Superfund list dreaded by so many residents who fear its stigma and negative influence on property values.

There’s been little discussion of how the 18-year-old Superfund Libby groundwater listing has affected the town.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Libby’s groundwater was contaminated with petachlorophenol, or PCP, after two decades of wood-treatment operations at the lumber mill operated by Champion International.

PCP was a chemical once commonly used as an anti-fungal treatment for wood. It is now believed to cause cancer in humans.


More about LibbyMonday: A look at the role the governor, Congressional delegation play in the Libby debate.

Tuesday: Is Libby a safe place to raise a family?

Stay up to date on Libby issues at

getting reports in the late 1970s from Libby residents who smelled creosote in their drinking water, the EPA investigated and found that wood-treatment fluids were discarded and spilled, and then leached into the town’ s groundwater system. Those who came touched or drank contaminated water could be poisoned, as could wildlife in the surrounding areas.

In 1985, Champion and the EPA agreed to a long-term work plan under the Superfund program. The company finished work a year later on a new water-distribution supply for Libby. Then, in 1989, the company signed another pact with EPA in which Champion agreed to pay the EPA’s past and future costs for oversight and monitoring.

Work is complete on the project, which required massive excavation of soil, getting rid of the most contaminated water and treating remaining contamination in the water system.