A federal court in Pittsburgh has approved a plan under which W.R. Grace and Co. will reimburse the government $250 million to pay for the investigation and remediation of asbestos contamination in Libby, Montana, where W.R. Grace once operated a vermiculite mine that proved to be a source of the deadly mineral fiber asbestos. Hundreds of people have developed asbestos-related diseases in Libby, and some have died of the illnesses, including asbestosis, lung cancer, and malignant mesothelioma. W.R. Grace is required to pay the $250 million within 30 days, and is expected to do so as it agreed to the plan in March. The reimbursement will be handled through the federal government’s “Superfund” cleanup fund, and will be by far the largest ever payment received by the Environmental protection Agency, which administers the program.
To date, the EPA has spent $168 million in Libby and expects to spend another $175 million in coming years; the $250 million payout from Grace will not cover all the expenses, but a prompt payment avoiding years of litigation will permit continuation of the cleanup operation without interruption or needing to seek further funding from Congress. The vermiculite mine and associated processing facilities were owned by W.R. Grace from 1953 until 1990, when they were closed due to the contamination. Millions of tons of contaminated ore were mined, processed, and shipped out of Libby, and were used in insulation, fireproofing, and gardening products around the United States. The primary contamination, however, took place in and around Libby, and that is where cleanup efforts have been focused. Environmental analysts with the EPA said that the cleanup work should be completed within five years. The remediation fee paid in Libby is not expected to interfere with a separate arrangement that W.R. Grace has made to resolve current and future asbestos claim, a deal worth approximately $3 billion in cash and company stock.