W.R. Grace, owner of an old asbestos mine in Libby, Montana, has proposed $18.5 million to settle the state of Montana’s environmental damages claims.
Montana has claimed extensive damage to its environment and natural resources due to the recklessness of W.R. Grace & Co.’s business practices while operating a vermiculite mine in Libby, Montana.
The proposed settlement will relieve W.R. Grace & Co. from many of its liabilities to the state and its respective organizations, but it will still hold the company accountable for its mistakes.
Details of the Proposed Settlement
According to the state of Montana’s website, W.R. Grace & Co. will be required to pay $18.5 million to settle Montana’s natural resource damage claims.
The Montana Natural Resource Damage Program will then receive the $18.5 million plus interest over the next ten years, with the first payment of $5 million due six months after the execution of the agreement. The funds will be used to restore, replace or rehabilitate wounded natural resources in the Lincoln County (Libby) area.
A spokesperson for the Natural Resource Damage Program says that the organization will work closely with the community to determine which projects should be considered a priority and how to successfully restore and address the injuries caused by W.R. Grace’s Libby mine.
The vermiculite mine and mill in Libby contained extreme levels of asbestos and was completely unsafe for both workers in the mine and residents in the city, who dealt with environmental asbestos exposure. Inhalation or ingestion of asbestos can cause deadly cancers, including mesothelioma and lung cancer.
Libby was added to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Priorities (superfund) list over 20 years ago in 2002, years after the mine shut down.
“After years of negotiation following (W.R.) Grace’s historic damage, Libby and communities in Lincoln County can more fully recover,” Governor Gianforte said. “I look forward to the positive impact this settlement can bring to the people of Libby and Lincoln County.”
If signed, the settlement will resolve the natural resource damage liability of W.R. Grace & Co. and other affiliated companies to the State of Montana for the Libby Asbestos Superfund Site. The settlement will also relieve Grace from its liabilities to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for hazardous or harmful substances, with certain exceptions.
However, W.R. Grace & Co. will be required to perform superfund work, with supervision from the EPA and DEQ consultation. The settlement will also not affect the company’s obligations under the Montana Dam Safety Act or the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation’s regulatory authority.
Additionally, W.R. Grace & Co. will be required to provide Montana with financial assurance for the maintenance and operation of the Kootenai Development Impoundment Dam for the next 100 years.
History of W.R. Grace’s Asbestos Mine in Libby
W.R. Grace & Co. is known for owning and operating the infamous mine in Libby, Montana. The mine is considered a national disaster location.
The Libby mine was primarily used to extract and mill vermiculite, a chalky substance used in various materials. However, vermiculite is often found in close proximity to asbestos. This leaves too much opportunity for vermiculite and asbestos to mix together.
Heaps of vermiculite were dumped throughout Libby – literally. Mounds of rocks and dirt – all containing asbestos – were common sites throughout the small, midwest town.
Children often played near the mounds or even climbed on top of them, unknowingly exposing themselves to asbestos. An even more concerning fact is asbestos can break free from vermiculite rocks and disperse into the air, exposing anyone living or visiting Libby.
While most of the asbestos exposure occurred at the mine, which is considered occupational asbestos exposure, a lot of exposure also happened at home and throughout the town. Miners would come home from work covered in mine dust, not knowing it was highly toxic asbestos. This often led to secondhand exposure for the miner’s family, children, friends or acquaintances.
The severe health effects of asbestos are one of the scariest aspects about the substance. If exposed to asbestos, you could develop serious long-lasting health issues or be at risk for developing many types of cancer.
W.R. Grace’s Libby mine was active for 66 years from 1924-1990 — almost enough time for three generations to have been poisoned. The death and illness Libby experienced during those six decades was unprecedented, and it’s still not quite over.
Around 2,900 people live in Libby as of the 2021 count. More than 80,000 people have been exposed to asbestos since the mine began operation. According to a documentary about the natural disaster, more than 2,500 residents of Libby have died due to asbestos-related diseases. The per-capita rate of asbestos death in Libby is much higher than any other town or city in the world.
Libby and its surrounding areas will have to continue to repair the damage left behind by W.R. Grace & Co. The company’s proposed settlement is another step towards progress on the road to recovery.
Sources & Author
Governor Gianforte Announces $18.5 Million Settlement for Libby Asbestos Site. Montana Official State Website. Retrieved from: https://news.mt.gov/. Accessed: 01/17/2023.
Sources & Author