Exposures – Brian Plonka – The Spokesman-Review – Dying from asbestos

Exposures – Brian Plonka – The Spokesman-Review – Dying from asbestos – Libby, Montana


In the past twenty-five years, more than 160 people have died of asbestos-related illness in tiny Libby, Montana, poisoned by a blanket of asbestos fibers that descended from the W.R. Grace vermiculite mine that, until it closed in 1990, was a mainstay of Libby’s economy. The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, reported the story, but a staff photographer, Brian Plonka, noticed a lack of visual coverage by his paper. He convinced his editors to let him spend January through March of 2001 in Libby. “I thought the easiest way to convey the story was in pictures,” says Plonka. Pictures like this shot, left, of Cloie Boardner, whose grandmother died of asbestosis, watching her grandfather pound a cross into the ground before a memorial service for the victims; or one of a former miner at W.R. Grace, who is dying from exposure to asbestos, looking at X-rays of his wife, who may also have been affected by fibers he brought home on his clothes. The EPA has taken charge of the clean-up, and, Plonka says, “When they start cleaning the homes, I’ll be there for that”

Copyright Columbia University, Graduate School of Journalism Jul/Aug 2002

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