Nearly 100 years ago, a mine opened in Libby, Montana that produced vermiculite. This mine was later bought by W. R. Grace and Company, a prominent American chemical conglomerate founded in 1854. So famous, in fact, that a book was written about its activities – but not for good publicity.
Back then, vermiculite was a mineral popular for use in products such as insulation and fertilizers. It was naturally-occurring, cheap, lightweight, and efficiently fire-proof. But unbeknownst to employees of the W. R. Grace mine, the vermiculite they were handling was contaminated with asbestos.
The asbestos these workers were exposed to wreaked untold amounts of health damage, subjecting W. R. Grace and the state of Montana to decades’ worth of investigation. Now, the case has been brought to light once again in Cascade County District Court, where over 1,000 cases finally reached a favorable conclusion.
That’s a Wrap: Montana State Pays Out $25M
This week, more victims and their families received at least a portion of the justice they deserve for their asbestos-related injuries and diseases. $25 Million in settlements was issued based on claims that state health officials kept hazards covered up – despite the state’s defense that it had no legal obligation to do otherwise. Each claimant will receive payments between $10,500 and $60,000, depending on the severity of their suffering.
Tens of hundreds of mine workers and surrounding residents from Libby have been injured or killed from the town’s asbestos-contaminated vermiculite plant. The mine, which closed in 1999, was operated for decades by unsuspecting workers even after state officials first discovered its dangers in the 1950s.
Since then, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has spent $600 Million on Superfund cleanup programs for over 7,100 properties in the Libby area. This makes it the largest and longest-running cleanup project in U.S. history. In 2008, W. R. Grace agreed to put $250 Million towards these programs. But the damage had already been done: An estimated 400 deaths and 3,000 sicknesses.
To the outrage of affected employees, W. R. Grace managed to escape most liability when it filed for bankruptcy after the truth was exposed. The company was also acquitted of having knowingly exposed mine workers and Libby residents to asbestos back in 2009, evading fines of $280 Million. Thankfully, the story didn’t end there.
Another Poisonous Corporation to Add to a Growing List
As well as against W. R. Grace itself, separate lawsuits are pending on associated sites containing vermiculite: BNSF Railway, which transported the mineral from the mine, and International Paper, which owns a lumber mill where vermiculite was stored.
But these are not the only companies that failed so miserably to protect their workers. Many other corporations have knowingly polluted the United States and countries all over the world with toxic chemicals. Perhaps one of the worst of these, asbestos is an incredibly dangerous mineral. Yet, before it was banned, workers in many industries were exposed to asbestos-containing products.
Inhalation of even 1 microscopic asbestos fiber can lead to grave diseases such as lung cancer, asbestosis (scarring of the lungs), and mesothelioma (a lethal cancer of vital organ lining). Asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis kill 15,000 people a year and cost companies billions of dollars – all because they kept asbestos risks purposely hidden.
The damage isn’t only restricted to employees either; family members have also experienced adverse effects from asbestos fibers brought home on workers’ clothing (known as secondhand exposure). But because the latency period (the length of time between first exposure and experiencing symptoms) can be anything between 20 and 50 years, the disclosure of these companies’ crimes has been a long-drawn-out process.
Has Justice Really Been Served?
This is the second settlement to be reached for Libby residents, after $43 Million was awarded in 2011. But since that deal was settled, many other victims have filed claims that are still under review. And considering that so many others’ asbestos-related symptoms have yet to develop, there will likely be more still in the coming years.
Fortunately for those involved in the latest settlement, now is the end of a long, hard fight for justice after such lengthy negotiations. However, given the death sentence they face from exposure to asbestos – and the senseless lies that served it – one can only wonder whether true justice will ever be found.