Grace & Co., Montana reach $18.5M settlement for some environmental clean-up costs

Libby asbestos site named a Superfund project in 2002

By: - January 10, 2023 6:23 pm

A scanning photography of asbestos (Photo by Getty Images).

Though the story of W.R. Grace & Company’s toxic pollution of Libby has been known in Montana for decades, the long parade of lawsuits and death due to asbestos is still ongoing. But on Tuesday, the State of Montana announced a settlement with the bankrupt company and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality for $18.5 million.

That settlement was announced by Gov. Greg Gianforte and officials said it will resolve the remainder of the state’s claims against Grace as part of the bankruptcy claims.

The Libby, Montana site is an asbestos Superfund location. Years of mining vermiculite, the mineral precursor to asbestos, has left the community and those who worked for the Grace company covered in a dangerous dust that often batters the lungs, causing medical conditions that lie dormant for years, but ultimately cause death. It wasn’t just those who worked at the mine or processed the ore who got sick, but because of the lack of safety equipment, coupled with the company’s cover-up, hundreds of people in the Libby area got sick from asbestosis and other lung diseases related asbestos.

Asbestos is still legal in America, one of the few places it’s still allowed, and was used in a variety of applications ranging from fertilizer to flooring tiles to insulation. Mining asbestos in the U.S., was banned in 2002.

“After years of negotiation following Grace’s historic damage, Libby and communities in Lincoln County can more fully recover,” Gianforte said.

The paperwork for the settlement was filed in a federal bankruptcy court in Delaware, and would require the company to pay $18.5 to resolve the natural resource damage claims.

The Montana Natural Resource Damage Program would receive $18.5 million plus interest during the course of 10 years, with the first $5 million due within six months.

A press release from Gianforte’s Office and the DEQ said the funds will be used to restore, replace and rehabilitate affected areas in Lincoln County. The DEQ said that the settlement would also resolve Grace’s liabilities to the department regarding hazardous or harmful substances.

The Libby Superfund Site was established by the federal government in 2002.

The settlement would not affect Grace’s requirements to continue to perform Superfund work with the Environmental Protection Agency and the DEQ. Under the settlement, Grace would provide the State of Montana with financial assurance for the operation and maintenance of the Kootenai Development Impoundment Dam for the next 100 years.

Though the problems with Grace & Co., have been known for decades, others injured by asbestos exposure are still fighting for compensation, help and, in some cases, their lives. In late 2022, Cascade County District Judge John Parker upheld a jury’s award of $36.5 million to a Grace employee who had worked for the mill for about 18 months. Ralph Hutt sued Maryland Casaulty Company, Grace’s insurance company, for covering up information about the health risks he and other miners faced when working there.

Now, the state will accept comments on the proposed settlement for more than a month.

Public comment is will be open until Feb. 13, 2023 and comments can be submitted by clicking here.

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming. With Darrell at the helm, the Gazette staff took Montana’s top newspaper award six times in seven years. Darrell's books include writing the historical chapters of “Billings Memories” Volumes I-III, and “It Happened in Minnesota.” He has taught journalism at Winona State University and Montana State University-Billings, and has served on the student publications board of the University of Wyoming.

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