Posts Tagged ‘W.R. Grace & Co.’

Fire threat near Libby asbestos mine acts as ‘practice exercise’

27 Oct 2017 by under News
20090617 libbymineCREDITEPA 100x100 Fire threat near Libby asbestos mine acts as practice exercise

Credit: EPA

When the West Fork Fire threated to encroach on the former W.R. Grace and Co. mine in Libby, , officials were preparing to deploy the Libby Response Plan. As MyMeso previously reported, the mine was spared from the fire thanks to a drop in temperature and an increase in rainfall.  Daily Inter Lake reports local, state and federal officials used the experience as test run in case the mine is not as fortunate in the future, though. (more…)


Column warns Montana residents of asbestos dangers

19 May 2009 by under News

There is an interesting opinion column published in the Saturday, May 16 issue of The Billings Gazette, urging residents to beware of danger. The piece, published in the wake of the W.R. Grace & Co. trial, which acquitted the vermiculite mining company of criminal responsibility in the contamination of the town of Libby, , warns of widespread vermiculite danger throughout the state, and beyond.

Penned by Bruce Ingraham, a resident of Butte and president of the Asbestos Contractors and Consultations Association of Montana, the column points out that vermiculite asbestos mined in Libby was shipped throughout the state of Montana and across the country by railcar. He notes that nearly 90 percent of mesothelioma cases reported in Montana occur in communities along the railroad lines, where, he says, “literally trainloads of vermiculite were used as attic or wall insulation in your home or your neighbor’s home.”

Mesothelioma is a deadly cancer most often affecting the lining of the lungs, but which also may in rarer instances affect the lining of the abdomen and/or the heart. It is solely caused by exposure to asbestos. There is currently no proven cure for mesothelioma.

Among the materials Mr. Ingraham includes on his list of asbestos hazards are boiler pipes, floor tile, linoleum, popcorn texture, ceiling tile, drywall compound, plaster and window putty. He notes that asbestos is present in many construction materials even in structures built as late as the 1990s.

Part of the problem in Montana, he says, is that compliance with the state’s Department of Environmental Quality Asbestos Control Program (ACP) is voluntary when it comes to residential projects, and that there is widespread noncompliance. Homes and apartments with less than four units are exempt from asbestos regulations, Ingraham says.

On its web site, the ACP says that the State of Montana has a specific homeowner asbestos exclusion rule for homeowners conducting renovation or demolition projects. Under this rule, homeowners are not held to the state’s asbestos abatement laws as long as asbestos-containing materials will not affect anyone besides the owner himself, or anyone outside the homeowner’s private property.

The ACP notes that the exclusion rule only applies to the homeowner, and does not extend to any contractors hired by a homeowner. According to the ACP, “Contractors who conduct demolition, renovation, remodeling, or asbestos abatement activities in a home are obligated to follow OSHA regulations and other applicable regulations. According to OSHA, the contractor must exercise due diligence by inspecting for asbestos to determine whether materials that will be impacted contain asbestos.”

But because compliance is not required on residential projects, these regulations are very often overlooked, Ingraham says. All too often, he says, the presence of asbestos is ignored by homeowners and contractors, and as a result, hundreds of Montana workers are exposed to asbestos without their knowledge, he says.

“In some Montana communities, the noncompliance rate for asbestos is 90 percent,” Ingraham writes.


W.R. Grace stock surges following aquittal

12 May 2009 by under Events, Legal, News

Reuters news service reported on Friday that W.R. Grace & Co. stock value jumped 36 percent following the company’s aquittal on criminal charges. The company, along with seven of its executives, had been on trial since Feb. 19 in the U.S. District Court in Missoula, .

A federal grand jury charged the company and executives in February 2005 with knowingly exposing workers at its vermiculite asbestos mine, and residents of the nearby town of Libby, Montana, to deadly asbestos fibers. A June 2008 Supreme Court decision upheld the grand jury’s findings and allowed the case to proceed to trial.

However, on Friday, May 8, a jury aquitted the company and five of the executives of all criminal charges. Two company executives had already been dismissed during the trial proceedings.

Asbestos exposure is linked to serious health problems, including asbestosis, a severe scarring of the lungs, and mesothelioma, a deadly cancer that affects the lining of the lungs and, more rarely the stomach and/or heart. Studies of former W.R. Grace & Co. miners, and residents of nearby Libby, have indicated that 227 people have died to date from asbestos disease, and there are more than 1,800 active cases of asbestos disease. Of that number, 77 deaths are attributed to secondary, non-occupational exposure, affecting people who never worked in the mine.

W.R. Grace & Co. is based in Columbia, , and is worth $945 million, according to the Reuters report. The news agency reports the stock value has now doubled in 2009, at $13.06 per share, after a four-year low of $2.96 in November.


Jury aquits W.R. Grace & Co. of criminal charges

10 May 2009 by under Events, Legal, News

Libby, Montana, residents were devastated Friday afternoon when a jury returned a judgment aquiting W.R. Grace & Co. of criminal charges regarding its asbestos mining facility in the town. The case began in 2005 when a federal grand jury handed down an unprecedented indictment, alleging a 30-year conspiracy to defraud the government and knowingly endanger the residents of Libby. The indictment alleged Grace company officials knew they were exposing Libby workers and residents of the nearby town to asbestos fibers, and that they knew the exposure posed a dangerous health risk to those workers and residents. Grace denied the claims, saying they were diligent in efforts to protect workers and to meet government regulations for managing the substance.

Asbestos exposure causes serious disease, including asbestosis, a severe scarring of the lungs that worsens with time and impairs the ability of its victims to breathe, and , a deadly cancer that affects the lining of the lungs and, more rarely, the stomach and heart.

According to the report in The Missoulian, statistics compiled by the Center for Asbestos Related Disease (CARD), located in Libby, indicate that to date 227 community members have died from asbestos disease, and there are more than 1,800 active cases resulting from exposure to the deadly fiber. The newspaper notes that “the study also attributes scores of deaths to non-occupational asbestos exposures, and finds that 77 people who never worked at Grace’s mine in Libby have died of asbestos disease since 1998.”

David Uhlmann, who is former chief of the Justice Department’s environmental crimes section, who was instrumental in developing much of the early indictment against Grace, said the Government’s case against Grace was severely limited by the court, which did not allow much of the evidence to be presented to the jury. This included some of the most incriminating internal memos, he said.

The Post quotes Uhlmann as saying, “The verdict is a fair reflection of the evidence that jurors were allowed to hear. But the question that hangs over this case is what would have happened if the government were allowed to present all of the evidence that it had amassed in this multi-year investigation.”

According to a report in The Washington Post, in a court filing the government acknowledged it “has committed discovery violations in this case,” which led to many rulings excluding its evidence and weakening its case against Grace.

The Missoulian reported the reaction of two Libby residents familiar to our readers – Gayla Benefield, who was perhaps the first to raise the outcry about the dangers of deadly asbestos in the town, said the company has “gotten away with murder.” And the paper quotes our friend Mike Crill, who worked in the asbestos mine and has lost family members to asbestos related disease and suffers himself from asbestos disease.

The Missoulian says Mike cried upon hearing the verdict. The paper quotes him: “What did they die for? What am I dying for?” Crill sobbed. “They are guilty of killing us.”


Two W.R. Grace executives dismissed from case

1 May 2009 by under News

The W. R. Grace & Co. criminal trial continues in Missoula, Montana, but this week two executives on trial for environmental crimes have been dismissed from the case. Robert Walsh was dismissed Monday, and William McCraig was dismissed from the case Thursday morning. Judge Donald Molloy is presiding over this case. Defense attorneys have been seeking to have the entire case dismissed for prosecutorial misconduct, but on April 29 Judge Molloy issued an order not to dismiss the case.

The trial began Feb. 19 in U.S. District Court. A federal grand jury charged in February 2005, along with seven of the company’s executives and managers. In June 2008, a Supreme Court decision upheld the grand jury’s findings and the court date was set. The company and its executives are charged with knowingly exposing workers at the Libby, Montana mine, and residents of the town of Libby, to hazardous asbestos.

The asbestos is found in , which was mined in Libby for many years. Hundreds of people in Libby have died as a result of asbestos-related diseases, including asbestosis, a severe scarring of the lungs, and mesothelioma, a deadly cancer that affects the lining of the lungs and, less commonly, the stomach and/or the heart.

W.R. Grace defense lawyers are currently presenting their case to the court. It is estimated that the case will go to the jury by the end of next week.

If you are interested in following this case, there is an excellent blog site, Grace Case, which is a joint project of the School of Law and the School of Journalism at the University of Montana. The site provides reports from the courtroom from either a news or legal analysis standpoint, depending on which students are filing the posts.


Montana students team up to cover Grace trial

18 Mar 2009 by under Events, Legal, News, Organizations

university of montana 100x100 Montana students team up to cover Grace trialLaw.com, an online publication of Incisive Media providing legal news and information, recently featured a story highlighting a unique program at the University of Montana, in which journalism students and law students are covering the criminal trial currently underway in Missoula, Montana.

Students are blogging at an original site, dubbed The Grace Case Project, as well as posting updates on Twitter under the name UMGraceCase. Journalism students write as news reporters covering the story as the jury hears it, while law students, all in their second or third year, explain the “legal nuances and strategies of the trial,” Law.com reports. The blog features an icon of a quill pen when the post is from a journalism perspective, or the scales of justice when written by a law student.

The criminal trial against W.R. Grace & Co. began Feb. 19 at the Russell Smith federal courthouse. The company, along with former company officials, are charged with conspiracy, obstruction of justice and knowing endangerment of the Clean Air Act. The government says Grace knew its vermiculite mine in Libby, Montana, produced dangerous asbestos that put the health of its workers and the nearby townspeople at risk.

Hundreds have died in Libby as a result of exposure to asbestos, suffering a number of serious asbestos related diseases including asbestosis, a serious scarring of the lungs, and , a deadly cancer that affects the lining of the lungs and/or the abdomen.


WR Grace trial continues in Montana

25 Feb 2009 by under Events, Legal, News

The criminal trial against W.R. Grace & Company began Monday in Missoula, Montana, and is continuing this week. The company is charged with knowingly exposing workers at its Libby, Montana, vermiculite mine, and residents of the nearby town of Libby to asbestos. The asbestos is found in vermiculite. Exposure to asbestos causes diseases including , a scarring of the lungs, and , a deadly cancer.

Hundreds of people in Libby have died as a result of asbestos exposure, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established the town as a Superfund site, undertaking a number of cleanup efforts.

The trial is taking place in U.S. District Court in Missoula before a federal grand jury.

According to The Missoulian, which is offering daily coverage of the trial as well as a web site dedicated to the history of W.R. Grace and Libby, federal prosecutors called their first witnesses yesterday. The news source says U.S. District Judge Don Molloy has ruled that testimony about asbestos releases must be limited to incidents after 1990, when the relevant criminal provision of the Clean Air Act was established, but the same year the Libby operation shut down.

However, the Missoulian says, prosecutors are working to show that even after the mine’s closure, “normal human activity” in the town stirred up asbestos-laden vermiculite that now permeated the town.

On Tuesday there was some dispute about allowing Paul Peronard to testify as a government expert witness against Grace. Peronard was the EPA’s on-site coordinator in 1999, when the asbestos contamination situation in Libby broke into the national news. He coordinated the asbestos remediation in Libby.

However, the Missioulian says, defense objected to qualifying Peronard as an expert witness, saying he didn’t have much experience with asbestos prior to his work in Libby.

Today the judge said he will allow Peronard to testify, but is limiting his testimony and expert opinions to his role in coordinating the Libby cleanup, barring him as an “expert scientist in risk assessment, toxicology or mineralogy,” the Missoulian says.

Federal prosecutors had hoped to use Peronard as a key witness.

Grace and five former company officials are charged with federal conspiracy involving Clean Air Act violations and obstrcution of justice, related to whether or not they knew they were endangering their workers and the community of Libby by mining asbesos-contaning vermiculite, and whether they were violating federal law.


Grace criminal trial begins with Libby victim outrage

19 Feb 2009 by under Events, Legal, News, Twitter

Jury selection is beginning today in Missoula, Montana, for the criminal case against The company is charged with knowingly exposing workers at its Libby, Montana, based mine, and residents of the town of Libby, to hazardous asbestos. The asbestos is found in vermiculite, which was mined in Libby for many years. Hundreds of people in Libby have died as a result of asbestos-related diseases, including and mesothelioma, and hundreds more are still suffering.

Local media Missoulian.com is covering the W.R. Grace trial extensively, and has created an EXCELLENT web site with tons of resources about the case, as well as about the town of Libby, asbestos and vermiculite, the victims, the company, cleanup efforts and more. There are videos available as well. Visit the web site here: http://missoulian.com/wrgrace

The trial is being held in U.S. District Court in Missoula. A federal grand jury charged W.R. Grace & Co. in February 2005, along with seven of the company’s executives and managers. In June 2008 a Supreme Court decision upheld the grand jury’s findings so a court date could be set.

I recently spoke with Mike Crill, and posted a poem on this site that he wrote in memory of his father-in-law, who worked in the Grace mines and died of asbestosis. Mike suffers from asbestosis as well, and he is an active and outspoken advocate on behalf of the town of Libby and its residents. He believes that despite an EPA cleanup, the town is still dangerous because of the lingering threat of asbestos exposure.

When I spoke to Mike in January, he was optimistic, hoping a new President and administration would bring a fresh look at Libby, and hopeful the criminal trial would bring justice to its people.

“I’m hoping 2009 will be the beginning of the end of all that’s been allowed to happen for so long, and I hope these people will be held accountable,” he said. “This is murder, to me, because they could have stopped it and they should have.”

Yesterday, Mike emailed me several times, upset by a ruling by U.S. District Judge Donald W. Molloy, who in an order last week said that there are “no crime victims identifiable” in the Grace case, essentially barring Libby residents who are sick from asbestos exposure and serving as victim witnesses to attend the trial.

According to a news story written by Tristan Scott and published by the Missoulian, “Molloy drew his legal conclusion from an oft-evoked federal rule of evidence that prohibits witnesses from observing trial proceedings until their own testimony is complete.” The judge’s decision is based on a witness-sequestration rule, but it is usually not applied to witnesses who are the victims of alleged crimes.

The ruling excludes 34 witnesses from Libby that prosecutors had intended to call from attending the trial in full. Judge Molloy’s order says witnesses in the Grace case are not protected under the Crime Victims Rights Act, which guarantees victims of an alleged crime to the right to participate in and observe the criminal justice process.

Basically, the judge is saying that these witnesses do not qualify as “crime victims,” and therefore are not immune from the witness-sequestration rule.

Mike was livid.

“Can you believe this??? I…am not a victim???” he emailed me from Missioula, where he is picketing at the courthouse. “I can’t participate in something that belongs to me and all my loved ones who suffered and died waiting for this, their day of justice?”


Longtime Libby resident Crill captures tragedy through poetry

23 Jan 2009 by under News, People

I recently spoke with Mike Crill, a resident of , Montana for more than 40 years. Mike has been diagnosed with asbestosis as a result of years of asbestos exposure at the mine in Libby. He has watched many members of his family suffer from asbestosis and mesothelioma as a result of years of exposure in the workplace and from widespread asbestos contamination throughout the town.

These days, Mike is an outspoken activist who lobbies for more thorough cleanup of Libby and the surrounding countryside, or a quarantine of the town to protect future generations from exposure. I’ll have more about his mission in the next few weeks, but I wanted to introduce you to him through some of his writings.

Following is a poem that Mike created in memory of his father-in-law, Donald M. Kaeding, who was diagnosed with asbestosis in both lungs in 1999, and passed away on January 30, 2002.

Today I’m Told
By Mike Crill

Today I’m told I have asbestosis in both my lungs
and that I am being sent home to die because there is no cure and asbestosis
is my guarantee to death…

Today I am scared to what has become of me.
I no longer can run nor walk very far.
Life’s getting harder every day…

Today I’m saddened by those who love me as they try to hide
the truth and their pain, knowing I shall soon die and that
they will witness my every moment, until I die…

Today I feel so lost because my life depends on a tube that
pumps oxygen into my lungs to keep me alive. Knowing beyond
the end of that hose lies the end of my life…

Today I am mad because I can’t feed myself and someone has to
bathe me, dress me and change my soiled pants. It’s times like
these I wish I were dead…

Today I am in the hospital. I’ve become too much for my loved ones
to endure and I am crying inside because I know when I leave here
I’ll be in Heaven…

Today is the worst, no feelings in my hands and feet, both are
turning blue and non-stop morphine is all that’s left to ease
my pain…

Today I tried my hardest for my last breath, for my last
touch of a hand in mine, as the last words I heard and the last
words I spoke, “I love you…”

Today … I’m in Heaven. No pain for ever more. It’s really
beautiful here. And I shall await for you all to join me in
eternal life and love…God bless and Amen


W.R. Grace profits soar amid suffering

30 Oct 2008 by under Legal, News

W.R. Grace & Co. announced in mid-September that it had filed a Plan of Reorganization for the company with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in . According to Grace Chairman, President and CEO Fred Festa, the filing was a step toward resolving the company’s asbestos-related liabilities and exiting its Chapter 11 bankruptcy status. A hearing on the company’s Disclosure Statement was set to begin this week.

As we have posted on this site many times before, W.R. Grace operated a vermiculite mine and processing plant in and near Libby, , from 1963 to 1990. The vermiculite was contaminated with high levels of asbestos, which affected the health of mine workers and just about everyone who lived in the town. Gravel and other scrap rock from the mine was scattered throughout the town of Libby, used in construction of a running track at the school, lining flowerbeds, and underfoot on ballfields.

Hundreds of Libby residents have died of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses as a result of their widespread exposure to the asbestos materials, and even more are sick with asbestos disease. In March, Grace agreed to pay $250 million toward government cleanup efforts in the town of Libby. It is estimated that the Environmental Protection Agency has spent at least $168 million so far in removing asbestos-contaminated soils and other materials from the Libby area.

Reaching beyond Libby, which has been basically killed by asbestos, the vermiculite insulation that was manufactured by Grace is still a danger in thousands of homes, where it was used for years. Grace is currently accepting claims from homeowners who have the company’s Zonolite Attic Insulation (ZAI) in their homes, for reimbursement of asbestos abatement costs and other economic loss and property devaluation related to the presence of the asbestos-laden material. This action, which centers exclusively on property-related damages, doesn’t even touch the potential health hazard of having the substance in one’s home.*

While Grace sorts out its bankruptcy issues, the Baltimore Business Journal reported on Oct. 23 that the company has seen record profits in 2008, experiencing nearly 50 percent growth in its third-quarter earnings. The Journal reports the Columbia-based Grace (NYSE: GRA) enjoyed a 14 percent increase in sales since last year, with revenues topping $800 million. The report says,  “Grace’s pre-tax income from core operations, which factors out costs related to the company’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy, rose 6 percent to $82 million.”

The story quotes Grace Chief Financial Officer Hudson La Force as saying, “What’s really important is the condition of the financial markets in the middle of next year. We’re very focused on making sure when the time comes to make our exit, we have the financing in place to do that.”

Documents outlining the company’s Financial Reorganization Plan are available on the Grace web site at www.grace.com.

*PLEASE NOTE: TO LEARN MORE ABOUT FILING A ZAI CLAIM, PLEASE VISIT THE GRACE BANKRUPTCY CLAIMS INFORMATION SITE at www.graceclaims.com to download the forms necessary to file your claim. Deadline to file is OCTOBER 31, 2008.