Radiographic abnormalities and exposure to asbestos-contaminated vermiculite in the community of Libby, Montana, USA

Environ Health Perspect. 2003 Nov;111(14):1753-9. doi: 10.1289/ehp.6346.


Mining, handling, processing, and personal or commercial use of asbestos-contaminated vermiculite have led to widespread contamination of the Libby, Montana, area. We initiated a medical testing program in response to reports of respiratory illness in the community. The purpose of this analysis was to identify and quantify asbestos-related radiographic abnormalities among persons exposed to vermiculite in Libby and to examine associations between these outcomes and participants' self-reported exposures. A cross-sectional interview and medical testing were conducted in Libby from July through November 2000 and from July through September 2001. A total of 7,307 persons who had lived, worked, or played in Libby for at least 6 months before 31 December 1990 completed the interview. Of those, 6,668 participants > or = 18 years of age received chest radiographs to assess the prevalence of pleural and interstitial abnormalities. We observed pleural abnormalities in 17.8% of participants and interstitial abnormalities in < 1% of participants undergoing chest radiography. We examined 29 occupational, recreational, household, and other exposure pathways in the analysis. The prevalence of pleural abnormalities increased with increasing number of exposure pathways, ranging from 6.7% for those who reported no apparent exposures to 34.6% for those who reported > or = 12 pathways. The factors most strongly associated with pleural abnormalities were being a former W.R. Grace worker, being older, having been a household contact of a W.R. Grace worker, and being a male. In addition to being a former W.R. Grace worker, environmental exposures and other nonoccupational risk factors were also important predictors of asbestos-related radiographic abnormalities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aluminum Silicates / chemistry*
  • Asbestos / adverse effects*
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Montana / epidemiology
  • Occupational Exposure*
  • Pleural Diseases / diagnostic imaging*
  • Pleural Diseases / etiology*
  • Radiography, Thoracic
  • Recreation
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors


  • Aluminum Silicates
  • vermiculite
  • Asbestos