Trees as reservoirs for amphibole fibers in Libby, Montana

Tony J. Ward, Terry Spear, Julie Hart, Curtis Noonan, Andrij Holian, Myron Getman, James S. Webber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Tree bark and core samples were collected from areas surrounding the asbestos-contaminated vermiculite mine in Libby, MT. These samples were collected to provide preliminary data in support of a proposed study to determine if trees can serve as reservoirs for amphibole fibers and to determine if there is a potential for exposure to those that harvest contaminated wood in the Libby mine area, specifically during firewood harvesting and commercial logging. Initially, three sets of samples were taken both within and directly outside of the EPA restricted area surrounding the mine site. Based on the results of the initial samples, a follow-up sampling program was conducted both in the town of Libby and directly outside the city limits. Gravimetric reduction of a tree core sample did not indicate the presence of amphibole fibers. However, transmission electron microscopy analysis of bark samples collected near the vermiculite mine yielded substantial amphibole fiber concentrations ranging from 41 million to 530 million fibers/g of bark. In addition, a bark sample collected approximately 7 miles west of the town next to a railroad line had concentrations of 19 million fibers/g. A conversion of these mass-based concentrations to areal concentrations (to reflect surface area contamination) revealed concentrations in excess of 100 million amphibole fibers/cm2. These preliminary results suggest that trees in the Libby valley and along vermiculite shipping corridors can serve as reservoirs for amphibole fibers, and that a potential for exposure exists for those who harvest contaminated wood.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)460-465
Number of pages6
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 15 2006


  • Amphibole
  • Asbestos
  • Electron microscopy
  • Fibers
  • Libby
  • Montana
  • Tree bark


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