WR Grace Agrees to $250 Million Settlement

In a settlement announced on Tuesday, W.R. Grace and Company has agreed to pay the federal government $250 million for environmental cleanup around its mining operations in Libby, Mont.

According to an article in the New York Times, this is the largest payment ever ordered under the Superfund program, which identifies and cleans up areas that are contaminated with dangerous toxic waste.

The article notes that “the settlement requires the approval of a federal judge overseeing the company’s bankruptcy proceedings and does not resolve a separate criminal case in Montana also arising from Grace’s alleged asbestos contamination of Libby.”

To date, hundreds of workers who toiled at W.R. Grace’s vermiculite mine in the small central Montana town have died of asbestos-related diseases as have many community members.

A Grace spokesman, Greg Euston, said the company was pleased with the settlement but that he could not comment further on orders of the judge in the criminal matter.

Though the company filed for bankruptcy in 2001, extensive clean-up was already under way in 2000. Three years later, in 2003, a Montana federal court ordered Grace to pay $54 million to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for investigation and cleanup costs incurred to that point, but the money has not been paid because of the bankruptcy proceeding.

The article explains that the settlement announced on Tuesday takes into account that previous payment and specifies that future payments be directed to a special EPA account to be used to clean schools, homes and businesses in Libby that are contaminated with asbestos dust, which is known to cause cancer and other pulmonary diseases.

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