W.R. Grace and Co. could pay up to $140 million to those who filed a class-action lawsuit in a tentative settlement arranged by a Seattle attorney. The settlement would require W.R. Grace to contribute the $140 million to a trust fund in the next 25 years to assist those who filed to pay for a portion of the removal of the asbestos -containing Zonolite attic insulation. Money from the trust would pay a maximum of 55 percent of the total cost up to $4,125 per claim. Asbestos was a popular product used in many home construction products, including insulation and tiling, up until the 1970s, when the dangers of asbestos was realized by the public. Zonolite is an asbestos-containing insulation used in thousands of attics across the United States. While Zonolite attic insulation does not appear to be hazardous if left undisturbed, should the insulation be moved or touch in a remodel or renovation, the asbestos fibers in it could be released into the air. Once airborne, asbestos can become deadly. Inhaling asbestos particles has been linked to the development of several types of cancer, all of which have high fatality rates and few treatment options.
These diseases can take decades to develop. This has led to a high number of people who were exposed when asbestos use was popular in the first three quarters of the 20th century being diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases. The class-action lawsuit against Grace had over 10,000 claimants by the initial October 31, 2008, filing deadline. Part of the settlement would remove the deadline and allow people to continue to make claims against the company for the next 25 years. Grace would also have to pay into the trust fund $60 million over three years, and keep the fund above $10 million. Should it fall below this level, fines totaling $80 million would have to be paid over the life of the fund. In addition to repaying a portion of the Zonolite removal and abatement of the claimants, the fund would also be used to educate the public to not take on the task of Zonolite removal themselves. Educating the public is hoped to prevent health problems in the future. A Delaware US bankruptcy judge will evaluate the terms of the settlement in January 2009. The most pressing issue of the matter is that W.R. Grace and Co. has been reorganizing since it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2001. One of the many reasons for the company’s filing was the large number of lawsuits filed against it over Zonolite. Should Grace’s reorganization plan be agreed upon by its creditors, the company could emerge from bankruptcy by the spring of 2009.