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“W.R. Grace to pay record Superfund fine
But $250 million may fall well short of Libby, Mont., cleanup cost
By ANDREW SCHNEIDER
P-I SENIOR CORRESPONDENT
The government says it finally has persuaded W.R. Grace & Co. to pick up some of the cleanup bill for what the Environmental Protection Agency has called the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.
The Justice Department on Tuesday announced that Grace had agreed to pay a record-setting $250 million to reimburse the federal government for the costs of the investigation and cleanup of asbestos contamination in Libby, Mont.”
W. R. Grace and Company has been involved in a number of controversial incidents of proven and alleged corporate crimes, including exposing workers to asbestos contamination in Libby and Troy, Montana, water contamination (the basis of the book and film A Civil Action) in Woburn, Massachusetts, and an Acton, Massachusetts Superfund site.
In the 1970s, it was discovered that W. R. Grace had improperly disposed of trichloroethylene, an industrial solvent, which then entered the town’s groundwater. The chemical appears to have caused fatal cases of leukemia and cancer, as well as a wide variety of other health problems, among the citizens of the town.
Despite the fact that Grace is troubled with asbestos lawsuits, it still sells $1.4 billion of products a year. 150,000 lawsuits have been settled or dismissed and 120,000 remain. W. R. Grace and Company has faced more than 250,000 asbestos-related lawsuits. Grace no longer makes asbestos-related products.
After asbestos injury claims nearly doubled in 2000, W. R. Grace & Company filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001 due to the unexpected increase in asbestos litigation. The United States Department of Justice determined that Grace had transferred 4 to 5 billion dollars to spin-off companies it had recently purchased, shortly before declaring bankruptcy. Justice Department attornies found that this amounted to a “fraudulent transfer” of money in order to protect Grace from civil suits related to asbestos. The bankruptcy court ordered the companies to return nearly $1 billion to Grace, which will remain as part of the assets to consider in the bankruptcy hearings.
In 2005, the U.S. Department of Justice began criminal proceedings against W.R. Grace. The department announced that a grand jury in Montana indicted W.R. Grace and seven current and former Grace executives for knowingly endangering residents of Libby, Montana, and concealing information about the health affects of its asbestos mining operations. According to the indictment, W. R. Grace and its executives, as far back as the 1970s, attempted to conceal information about the adverse health effects of the company’s vermiculite mining operations and distribution of vermiculite in the Libby, Montana community. The defendants are also accused of obstructing the government’s cleanup efforts and wire fraud. To date, according to the indictment, approximately 1,200 residents of Libby area have been identified as suffering from some kind of asbestos-related abnormality.
Popular culture reaction
The PBS television show P.O.V., which highlights independent films in August 2007 premiered the movie Libby, Montana that documents the thousands of people in Libby, Montana that have been exposed to and are suffering the effects of exposure to asbestos. The show also discusses the criminal indictments of many Grace executives for covering up the asbestos related illnesses and deaths.
NPR ran a piece on their show All Things Considered discussing the criminal charges against W. R. Grace. A U.S. attorney general alleges that the company and managers of the mine in Libby, Montana knew about the dangers of the asbestos they were dumping into the air for over 20 years.“