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EPA will aid town in Mont.

It declared a health emergency in Libby, where asbestos is blamed in 200 deaths.

WASHINGTON - The Obama administration said yesterday that it would pump an additional $130 million into a Montana town where asbestos contamination has been blamed for more than 200 deaths.

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said the agency for the first time had determined there was a public-health emergency in a contaminated community, targeting Libby, Mont., for immediate federal attention.

Jackson's announcement will not result in an evacuation of Libby's 2,600 residents but will require an extensive, home-by-home cleanup and better health protections for those with asbestos-related illnesses.

The EPA will invest at least $125 million over the next five years in the ongoing cleanup. The Health and Human Services Department will spend $6 million more on medical help for residents with asbestos-related ills.

The money is in addition to hundreds of millions of dollars the government and Maryland-based W. R. Grace & Co. have spent to clean up Libby, where asbestos contamination from a now-closed vermiculite mine has been cited in the deaths of more than 200 people and illnesses of thousands more.

Before the vermiculite mine was closed in 1990, miners carried asbestos home on their clothes. Vermiculite once covered school running tracks in Libby and some residents used vermiculite as mulch in their home gardens.

Jackson said the announcement was the first time the EPA had made such a determination under authority of the 1980 Superfund law.

Sen. Max Baucus (D., Mont.) called the emergency declaration a great day for Libby, which he said "had to wait year after year as the last administration failed to determine that a public-health emergency exists."

The EPA previously declared the area a Superfund site but had not determined there was a health emergency until yesterday.

Last fall, Baucus accused the Bush administration of a "conspiracy" for not declaring an emergency in Libby. He said former EPA Administrator Christie Whitman was prepared to declare an emergency in 2002 but was overruled by the Bush White House.

A Grace spokesman did not return a phone call yesterday. The company has not denied that asbestos came from its mine but has said it acted responsibly to clean it up. It paid millions in residents' medical bills and agreed last year to pay $250 million to repay the EPA for cleanup.