MAC: Mines and Communities

W.R. Grace Must Pay Asbestos Cleanup Bill

Published by MAC on 2006-10-11

W.R. Grace Must Pay Asbestos Cleanup Bill


11th October 2006

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear W.R. Grace & Co.'s appeal of a lower court ruling ordering the company to pay $54.5 million for asbestos cleanup in Libby, Montana. The move upholds previous decisions that ruled in favor of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which filed suit in 2001 to recover funds it spent to clean up the former vermiculite mine.

The company had argued that the EPA lacked authority to force it to pay for cleanup of one of the nation's worst Superfund sites. The lower court ruling rejected that plea and the Supreme Court's decision not to consider Grace's appeal means the company must now foot the bill.

The company operated the Libby mine from 1963 to 1990. Vermiculite is used in many common commercial products, including attic insulation, fireproofing materials, masonry fill, and as an additive to potting soils and fertilizers.

The vermiculite deposits at the Libby plant contain asbestos, which is regulated under the Clean Air Act as a hazardous air pollutant. Studies have shown that exposure to asbestos can cause life-threatening illnesses, including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Health studies on residents of the Libby area show increased incidence of many types of asbestos related disease, including a rate of lung cancer that is 30 percent higher than expected when compared with rates in other areas of Montana and the United States.

Grace and seven current and former company executives face criminal charges that they knew the Libby mine was emitting carcinogenic asbestos into the air, endangering workers and residents, but they concealed the information. Some 1,200 people have been identified as suffering from illnesses linked to asbestos exposure at Libby.

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