Libby, Montana is an insightful and alarming documentary about how an American community was robbed of its health and future by corporate greed. As the site of the largest mine in the U.S. for vermiculite, a form of asbestos, Libby and its residents became the victims of both bottom-line profiteering and political neglect.

Co-directors Doug Hawes-Davis and Drury Gunn Carr have made a damning indictment of the mining company W. R. Grace and its management, the people that withheld the information about vermiculite’s extreme toxicity from Libby’s townspeople for decades, and of the politicians at the local, state, and federal levels who looked the other way as the damage continued and as treatment options for those effected lessened.

A Town Destroyed by Mesothelioma Cancer

Located on the shore of the pristine Kootenai River near the Rockies, Libby was originally a beautiful, rugged example of a remote Western town. The story of how Libby ended up as the worst case in U.S. history of industrial poisoning of an entire community forms the backbone of the Libby, Montana documentary, filled in with archival evidence – such as W. R. Grace’s internal memos confirming the company’s knowledge and denial of vermiculite’s danger – and with news reports, investigative journalism, interviews of Grace employees, attorney and lawyer accounts, and Libby residents.

Lies and More Lies

The lies told by Grace Management about the “safety” of the vermiculite that was mined and spread about the town are appalling (more than 90 percent of the employees who worked at the company for over 20 years developed lung disease due to the vermiculite). The rate of mesothelioma cancer, a fatal cancer due to asbestos poisoning, among the residents of Libby, which includes non-employees, spouses, family members, children, and others is 10 times the national average.

Within two years of acquiring the Libby mine in 1963, the management of W. R. Grace knew that the vermiculite was toxic, but they withheld that information from the miners, telling them that the raw mineral was safe and that the insulation made from vermiculite, Zonolite, was safe, too, and good for applications, such as sports field and playground turf in the town itself.

Greed, Bankruptcy, Indictments

Seven W. R. Grace officials are slated to go on trial for their misdeeds in the fall of 2008. The company declared bankruptcy rather than pay out liability claims for the hundreds of vermiculite victims in the town, and has allegedly moved billions of dollars in vermiculite profits elsewhere. Toxic Zonolite insulation is estimated to have been placed in some 35 million homes across the United States.

Watch the Libby, Montana Movie

Libby, Montana is a movie worth watching. It’s a comprehensive documentary about one of America’s greatest tragedies. View the trailer for the Libby, Montana movie and visit the High Plains Films website for film reviews.