According to the Government Accountability Office, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) deliberately neglected to warn millions of homeowners about the cancer risk associated with the W.R. Grace product, vermiculite insulation. The report, based on an investigation undertaken on behalf of the U.S. Congress, accuses the EPA of using “outdated criteria,” underestimating the danger faced by people in over 250 communities where vermiculite ore from the W.R. Grace Mines in Libby, Montana was processed. It is now documented fact that W.R. Grace & Company, which produced and marketed vermiculite between 1963 and 1984, concealed information regarding the health hazards of its product both from employees and the general public. By itself, vermiculite is inert and non-toxic. However, the vermiculite sold by Grace under the name Zonolite was contaminated with tremolite, a deadly type of amphibole asbestos. Dr. Richard Lemen, former U.S. Surgeon General and current Acting Director of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, said that the EPA’s failure to warn homeowners about the dangers of vermiculite “unconscionable.” “[For the] EPA to basically keep it a secret from homeowners for all these years is outrageous,” Lemen said.
Dr. Aubrey Miller, a U.S. Public Health Service doctor, adds that “…the EPA knows that people throughout the country continue to encounter this dangerous insulation in their day-to-day activities.” The EPA said in 2003 that it would be launching a major consumer awareness program in order to inform homeowners about the dangers of vermiculite insulation, which may still be in as many as 35 million homes across the U.S. The program, however, which would have included ads on radio, television and in the print media, was never begun. Not surprisingly, a great deal of the pressure to keep the dangers of vermiculite a secret came from the Bush White House–a fact that is documented in numerous letters, reports and e-mails. In the meantime, the Justice Department is going ahead with its criminal case against six out of seven former W.R. Grace executives, who allegedly conspired to conceal information regarding the dangers of the company’s product. One of the defendants, a former mine supervisor, died of a non-asbestos-related cancer earlier this year.