More news on the asbestos tragedy of Libby, Montana: W.R. Grace & Co. has recently agreed to pay up to $140 million in order to settle a class-action asbestos lawsuit resulting from its use and sale of the asbestos-containing attic insulation product. The company had announced in August that it intended to resolve all asbestos claims against itself; however, this will allow W.R. Grace to emerge from bankruptcy without further responsibility for asbestos injuries resulting from their Zonolite product.
W.R. Grace will be required to immediately pay $30 million into a trust fund and an additional $30 million into the fund in three years. The company told the Securities and Exchange Commission that if certain conditions were met, it would make an additional 10 annual payments of $8 million. These payments will be backed by half of W.R. Grace’s stock. Shares in W.R. Grace fell 11 cents to $3.50.
This does not solve many problems for the residents of Libby, Montana. The United States Environmental Protection Agency arrived in the town in 1999 and has been overseeing cleanup efforts under the government’s Superfund program. The town’s story is highlighted in an Emmy-nominated PBS documentary, “Libby, Montana.”
Most of the Zonolite attic insulation produced by W.R. Grace & Co., a loose-fill vermiculite product that contained naturally occurring asbestos, was manufactured in the United States and came from a vermiculite mine located in Libby, Montana. The Libby mine had operated for more than 70 years in the small Montana town and was not closed until 1990.
The presence and use of the mine has been associated with asbestos exposure to employees, their families and residents of the town, causing thousands to fall ill and over 200 deaths in the Libby area from various forms of asbestos-related illnesses such as asbestosis and mesothelioma, a terminal and painful form of cancer.
The Zonolite attic insulation was installed in millions of homes throughout the United States and Canada, meaning millions of more people, beyond Libby, have been exposed to the asbestos materials found in the insulation. The large number of lawsuits filed against Zonolite pushed W.R. Grace into bankruptcy protection in 2001.