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HELENA - Federal agencies have announced a five-year, $8 million study aimed at understanding the effects of exposure to lower levels of asbestos in Libby.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency say the Libby Amphibole Health Risk Initiative will focus on determining whether exposure to lower levels of Libby asbestos is associated with increased risk of lung disease, cancer, chronic illnesses, autoimmune diseases or other health problems.

The initiative will be funded by the EPA and the Department of Health and Human Services' Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. It will include a series of projects and studies, including one that will compare film and digital chest x-rays to determine which is best for assessing the condition of lungs.

Asbestos contamination from a now-closed vermiculite mine near Libby has been blamed for killing more than 200 people and sickening many hundreds more.

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On the Net: Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, http://www.epa.gov/

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