W.R. Grace & Co. and three former executives have been acquitted of federal charges that they knowingly allowed residents of a northwestern Montana town to be exposed to asbestos from its vermiculite mine. Residents of the town of Libby blame tremolite asbestos from the vermiculite for about 2,000 cases of illness and about 225 deaths in and around the community. Miners carried asbestos home on their clothes. Vermiculite was also used to cover school running tracks in Libby, and some residents actually used vermiculite as mulch in their home gardens.
The company and its one-time bosses were accused of knowingly endangered the lives of mine workers and other residents of Libby, and ignoring warnings by state agencies to clean up the vermiculite mining operation. They were also accused of Clean Air Act violations and obstruction of government efforts to address problems in Libby.
Grace also faces civil cases in which hundreds of Libby residents seek compensation for health problems. I believe that the company knew about the health hazards of asbestos, but covered it up for financial reasons and to avoid liability. Grace bought the mine in 1963 and closed it in 1990. Asbestos contamination in Libby led to environmental cleanup and health care services that have become a major economic force in the community once reliant on mining and logging. Cleanup overseen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has cost tens of millions of dollars. The town, located at the hub of an area with about 10,000 residents, now has a health clinic devoted to asbestos-related disease. Libby has held asbestos “health fairs” and a local company got into the business of manufacturing backpack-style carriers for oxygen tanks used to aid the breathing of people with asbestos-scarred lungs.
Source: Associated Press
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