Childhood exposure to Libby amphibole asbestos and respiratory health in young adults

Environ Res. 2017 Oct;158:470-479. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2017.07.013. Epub 2017 Jul 8.


Objectives: Vermiculite ore containing Libby amphibole asbestos (LAA) was mined in Libby, MT, from the 1920s-1990. Recreational and residential areas in Libby were contaminated with LAA. This objective of this study was to characterize childhood exposure to LAA and investigate its association with respiratory health during young adulthood.

Methods: Young adults who resided in Libby prior to age 18 completed a health and activity questionnaire, pulmonary function testing, chest x-ray and HRCT scan. LAA exposure was estimated based on participant report of engaging in activities with potential LAA exposure. Quantitative LAA estimates for activities were derived from sampling data and literature reports.

Results: A total of 312 participants (mean age 25.1 years) were enrolled and reported respiratory symptoms in the past 12 months including pleuritic chest pain (23%), regular cough (17%), shortness of breath (18%), and wheezing or whistling in the chest (18%). Cumulative LAA exposure was significantly associated with shortness of breath (aOR = 1.12, 95% CI 1.01-1.25 per doubling of exposure). Engaging in recreational activities near Rainy Creek Road (near the former mine site) and the number of instances heating vermiculite ore to make it expand or pop were also significantly associated with respiratory symptoms. LAA exposure was not associated with pulmonary function or pleural or interstitial changes on either chest x-ray or HRCT.

Conclusions: Pleural or interstitial changes on x-ray or HRCT were not observed among this cohort of young adults. However, childhood exposure to LAA was significantly associated with respiratory symptoms during young adulthood. Pleuritic chest pain, in particular, has been identified as an early symptom associated with LAA exposure and therefore warrants continued follow-up given findings of progressive disease in other LAA exposed populations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Asbestos, Amphibole / toxicity*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Lung / pathology
  • Lung / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Mining
  • Montana / epidemiology
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / chemically induced
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Young Adult


  • Asbestos, Amphibole