The Libby Epidemiology Research Program is sponsored by the U.S. Center for Disease Control. The Principal Investigator is Raja Flores M.D., who took over after the death of Dr. Stephen Levine. The study was funded by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) it was a five-million-dollar research grant that was awarded to the Icahan School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York. The purpose of this award was to understand the long term health effects of exposure to amphibole asbestos in Libby Montana and the surrounding communities. Working collaboratively with a local Libby health group- Center for Asbestos Related Diseases- CARD- founded and run by Dr. Brad Black, together with researchers from Idaho State University and Montana State University at Missoula, to help understand the uniqueness of Libby Amphibole disease
The study was a comprehensive five year look at three major areas of health of the residents of Libby. Those residents suffered environmental exposure not as a direct result of participation in W.R. Grace and Company mining operation, just by living and playing in their community. The three parts of the study were designed to see if the effect on the immune system, lung development and lung scarring, and whether these health complications overlap with exposure.
The program was broken down into three separate studies. The Pre-Adult Latency study examined the health consequences of exposure on young people whose lungs were still developing and maturing. This study will examine those exposed 15 years after the initial exposure.
The Cat Scan –CT – Progression Study- this study follows the progression of lung scarring as seen on CT scans. In addition to Dr. Flores from Mount Sinai, the study has two other experts in radiology from Mount Sinai. Dr. Claudia Henschke and Dr. David Yenkelevitz. Through the expertise of these specialists and Mount Sinai’s experience with other people exposed to a different form of asbestos, using thorough progressive CT scans over time, they are trying to determine if scarring on the lungs from Libby Amphibole pleurall scarring progresses more rapidly. This can have important implications for all asbestos related diseases- if it is proven that disease progression is different with different types of asbestos, treatments and treatment plans can be devised to intervene earlier than is currently done.
The third part of this study focuses on what effect the possible exposure has on developing auto immune diseases. In August of 2016 the results of this part of the trial were announced. The results indicated as much as a 10 x increase in the risk of lupus, scleroderma, and rheumatoid arthritis in people that had been exposed to amphibole asbestos.
All three parts are closed to additional patients and the data is being compiled with the results to be used to help further specialized treatments for asbestos related diseases. The report is expected by year end on the lung development in children portion of the study. The pleural lining study is on hold at this point.
Working in collaboration with local agencies, new data findings with regards to exposure to certain asbestos fibers in Libby have furthered the understanding of exposure to asbestos and its long term effects.