The US District Court of Montana has ordered W.R. Grace & Company to pay over $54.5 million to reimburse the US Federal Government for the costs of investigation and cleanup of asbestos contamination in Libby, MT.
W.R. Grace owned and operated a vermiculite mine and vermiculite processing facilities in Libby from 1963 to 1990. The vermiculite ore found in Libby is contaminated with asbestos fibres. Mining and processing activities resulted in the spread of vermiculite – and the associated asbestos fibres – to numerous homes, businesses, and schools throughout the town.
Asbestos, a recognised human carcinogen, is known to cause lung cancer and mesothelioma, a lethal tumour of the lining of the chest and abdominal cavities. Exposure to asbestos can also cause asbestosis, a disease characterised by fibrotic scarring of the lung.
Hundreds of people in Libby, including former mine workers, their families, and other residents, have exhibited signs and symptoms of asbestos-related disease. The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR ) conducted medical testing for Libby residents in the summer of 2000, and observed pleural abnormalities in 18% of the people who participated. ATSDR also found that mortality in Libby from asbestosis was 40 to 80 times higher than expected, and mortality from lung cancer was 20% to 30% higher than expected.
The US Environmental Protection Agency has been removing asbestos-contaminated soils and vermiculite in and near Libby since May 2000. The federal government filed suit against W.R. Grace in March 2001 to recover its investigation and cleanup costs under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as the ‘Superfund’ law.
In April 2001, W.R. Grace filed for bankruptcy in the Federal Court in Delaware. The bankruptcy court must hence now approve any payments on the judgement.