BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Residents of a Montana mining community where thousands have been sickened by asbestos exposure will weigh in this week on a proposal to leave the dangerous material behind in many houses and buildings.

The Environmental Protection Agency has spent more than $540 million to date removing asbestos from the neighboring towns of Libby and Troy in northwest Montana.

Agency officials say material to be left behind does not present a danger unless people are exposed.

Public hearings this week in Libby and Troy will gather input on preventing such exposures.

Possible long-term measures could include zoning restrictions, permits to disturb contaminated materials and educations campaigns for firefighters, contractors and others who might inadvertently encounter asbestos on the job.

EPA officials expect to finalize their proposal later this year.

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