Disease likely to increase thanks to mass poisoning by W.R. Grace

March 24, 2008

Workers exposed to low levels of vermiculite from Libby, Montana more than two decades ago are at an increased risk for lung disease, according to research from the University of Cincinnati (UC).

An article in Science News Daily reported today that:

Workers with low-level exposures to Libby vermiculite ore may not have obvious health effects right away, but the past exposure is something of which their physicians should be aware. Once inhaled, these fibers are very persistent and stay in the lung for a long time. They lodge in the lung tissue and the tissue that lines the chest wall and cause inflammation, which can lead to chronic lung problems and diseases. Records show that until the Montana mine was closed in 1990, it provided up to 80 percent of the world’s vermiculite supply–which was widely used in both commercial and residential applications, including home insulation, packing materials, construction materials and gardening products. Vermiculite ore is now mined from other sources that reportedly do not contain similar asbestos-like mineral fibers.

The chest X-ray changes associated with the low cumulative fiber exposure are a public health concern. The Libby vermiculite ore was widely distributed across the United States for residential and commercial use, which means it could impact not only the workers who processed it but also consumers who used it for home insulation.

The full story is posted here.

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Vermiculite from Libby, MT a ticking time bomb in the chests of thousands

March 14, 2008

Workers exposed to low levels of vermiculite from Libby, Montana more than two decades ago are at an increased risk for lung disease, according to research from the University of Cincinnati (UC).

An article in Science News Daily reported today that:

Workers with low-level exposures to Libby vermiculite ore may not have obvious health effects right away, but the past exposure is something of which their physicians should be aware. Once inhaled, these fibers are very persistent and stay in the lung for a long time. They lodge in the lung tissue and the tissue that lines the chest wall and cause inflammation, which can lead to chronic lung problems and diseases. Records show that until the Montana mine was closed in 1990, it provided up to 80 percent of the world’s vermiculite supply–which was widely used in both commercial and residential applications, including home insulation, packing materials, construction materials and gardening products. Vermiculite ore is now mined from other sources that reportedly do not contain similar asbestos-like mineral fibers.

The chest X-ray changes associated with the low cumulative fiber exposure are a public health concern. The Libby vermiculite ore was widely distributed across the United States for residential and commercial use, which means it could impact not only the workers who processed it but also consumers who used it for home insulation.

The full story is posted here


W.R. Grace to pay $250 million for asbestos cleanup

March 12, 2008

Federal officials say W.R. Grace and Co. has agreed to pay $250 million as reimbursement for government expenses in the investigation and cleanup of asbestos contamination in Libby, Montana. The U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday the sum is the highest in the history of the federal Superfund program of environmental cleanup. The $250 million deal settles a claim the government filed to collect money for past and future costs of cleaning Libby schools, homes and businesses contaminated with asbestos. The substance, which can cause the scarring of lung tissue, came from Grace’s vermiculite mine near the northwestern Montana community.

Associated Press 03.11.08


W.R. Grace asbestos creditors seek to defeat company’s self-serving reorganization plan

November 7, 2007

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — W.R. Grace & Co.’s asbestos creditors on Monday filed their own version of a Chapter 11 reorganization plan, heating up the contest over how to end the specialty-chemical company’s stay in bankruptcy.

Grace and people claiming injury from its asbestos products have been at odds for years over how much the company must set aside to cover its liabilities before it can end the Chapter 11 proceedings it began in 2001.

The Chapter 11 plan proposed by asbestos creditors calls on Grace to set aside cash, equity or other assets sufficient to deal with $4 billion worth of liabilities linked to the toxic substance.

Grace’s own Chapter 11 plan is premised on a much lower estimate of the damages it owes for asbestos products, $712 million, according to one of Grace’s experts. The company’s version of a Chapter 11 outcome would also leave shareholders with a stake in the reorganized Grace.

That is not the case with the asbestos creditor version of a Chapter 11 restructuring for Grace, filed Monday in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Del.

Shareholders would see their stock canceled under the asbestos creditors’ plan, unless Grace gains sufficient value to cover its asbestos liabilities and other debts and still has value to spare.

Shareholders lose all in most corporate Chapter 11 cases, but there have been cases, including asbestos-driven bankruptcies, where shareholders have held on to their interests. In recent years, USG Corp. and Owens Corning Inc. ended long stays in bankruptcy and long battles with creditors without stripping shareholders of everything.

Monday’s rival Chapter 11 plan proposal comes in the wake of a July ruling in which a judge stripped Grace of exclusive rights to control its bankruptcy proceedings. Judge Judith Fitzgerald gave lawyers representing people claiming injury from Grace asbestos products the right to file their own Chapter 11 proposal in hopes the threat of a rival plan could push Grace to negotiate a settlement.

Grace, based in Columbia, Md., filed for Chapter 11 protection to shield itself from more than 135,000 asbestos-related lawsuits. The company blames resistance from asbestos creditors for stalling the six-year-old case.


Asbestos defendant tries new tack to evade criminal charges

October 8, 2007

Associated Press – October 7, 2007 3:25 PM ET

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) – W.R. Grace is challenging a federal appeals court ruling that restored criminal charges of “knowing endangerment” to the government’s asbestos case against the company.

Last month, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals reversed or revised six decisions handed down by U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula.

Molloy’s decisions dealt a blow to the government’s case and gutted its theory of knowing endangerment — which lies at the core of allegations that top executives intentionally concealed the dangers associated with asbestos-contaminated vermiculite mined near Libby.

But a week after the panel ruled in favor of the federal government, attorneys for Grace filed motions indicating the company will fight the decision.

Attorneys for Grace requested more time to petition the court for a rehearing. The extension was granted, giving Grace until November 5th to submit documents arguing the panel erred in its findings of fact. Grace will request a rehearing before the same three-judge panel, before the whole court, or both.

Grace spokesman Greg Euston declined to say what legal basis lawyers are using to develop their argument. He says the company’s petition will speak for itself.

Information from: Missoulian, http://www.missoulian.com


9th Circuit rules against asbestos poisoning defendant W.R. Grace

September 24, 2007

By KATIE OYAN Associated Press Writer
© 2007 The Associated Press

HELENA, Mont. — A federal appeals court has reversed a number of pretrial rulings in the government’s asbestos case against W.R. Grace & Co.

[Click here for the complete text of the ruling.]

The three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday overturned a lower court’s ruling that federal prosecutors could not allege the company and former top officials conspired to “knowingly endanger” miners and residents of the town of Libby by exposing them to asbestos.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula had ruled the time allotted under federal law for the government to pursue that allegation had expired. He said the government failed to allege the defendants committed an overt act to knowingly endanger others within the five-year statute of limitations that began in 1999.

In its decision, the panel disagreed, saying the lower court incorrectly interpreted the federal statute.

“The district court dismissed the knowing endangerment object in the original indictment as ‘time-barred’ because it failed to allege an overt act within the statue of limitations, not because the indictment was untimely filed,” the three-judge panel wrote. “The district court erred.”

Bill Mercer, the U.S. attorney for Montana, praised the reversal and others issued Thursday.

“In reversing several pretrial rulings by Judge Molloy, today’s decision by the 9th Circuit is an important victory for the United States,” Mercer said in a statement.

Calls seeking comment from a Grace attorney in Missoula and from Helena lawyer Ron Waterman, representing defendant Harry Eschenbach, were not returned.

The case involves public exposure to asbestos in the Libby area, where Grace used to operate a mine.

A 2005 indictment charged Grace and seven of its former managers, one of whom died in February, with conspiring to conceal health risks posed years ago by the company’s Libby vermiculite mine, closed since 1990. Hundreds of people in Libby have fallen sick, some fatally, from exposure to asbestos in vermiculite.

On Thursday, the appeals court panel also reversed a decision by Molloy regarding the definition of asbestos.

According to the panel’s written opinion, Molloy interpreted asbestos to mean the six minerals covered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “civil regulatory scheme,” and excluded evidence of asbestos releases of other asbestiform minerals.

“This ruling eliminated from trial evidence of releases of 95 percent of the contaminants in the Libby vermiculite _ which are asbestiform minerals but fall outside of the six minerals in the civil regulatory definition,” the panel wrote.

The panel ruled Molloy improperly limited the term, saying asbestos need not include “mineral-by-mineral classifications to provide notice of its hazardous nature, particularly to these knowledgeable defendants.”

The panel also overturned Molloy’s decision allowing Grace to use an affirmative defense established by the Clean Air Act for air pollutants released under “National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants.”

The government argued that no such standards applied to Grace’s operations in Libby so compliance was impossible. The lower court rejected that argument, finding that a standard of “no visible emissions” for asbestos applied to Grace’s Libby operations.

The panel disagreed.

“The plain language of the statute makes clear that the affirmative defense simply doesn’t apply in this case,” the panel wrote. “The district court’s order to the contrary leaves us with a ‘definite and firm conviction’ that it got the law wrong.”

Thursday’s rulings were among two appeals stemming from pretrial decisions. In July, a 9th Circuit panel reversed a ruling by Molloy that required federal prosecutors to produce a pretrial list of non-expert witnesses. The panel said the district court had “exceeded its authority.”

The trial had been tentatively scheduled for September but that has since been postponed. A new trial date has not been set, Mercer said.

“The grand jury indicted this case in 2005,” Mercer said. “With the resolution of both appeals brought by the government, we look forward to trial.”

Activist Gayla Benefield of Libby called Thursday’s rulings “probably the biggest step forward” in the case for people sickened by asbestos from the mine.

“They ruled about 95 percent in our favor,” she said. “That absolutely is fantastic. That’s more than we could have hoped for _ way more.”

Benefield said both of her parents died of asbestos-related illnesses and many other family members and friends are sick. They deserve closure and accountability, she said.

“Now we have a fighting chance,” she said. “Now we’re on an even ground.”


Baucus threatens EPA subpoenas over Libby asbestos information

August 7, 2007

Montana Sen. Max Baucus threatened Monday to subpoena the Environmental Protection Agency over why asbestos poisoning in Libby, was never declared a public health emergency. Baucus has requested five year-old documents from the agency detailing deliberations over whether it would declare such an emergency. Baucus said such a declaration would have lead to more extensive cleanup and health protections for the town, which is home to the now-closed W.R. Grace & Co. Vermiculite mine. In a speech during a visit to Libby on Monday, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson said he would get the documents to Baucus by Aug. 31.

Read the whole story here, including intervention by the White House to prevent EPA from acting: Associated Press, August 7, 2007.

Information about mesothelioma medical and legal options provided by the Law Office of Roger G. Worthington, P.C., www.mesothel.com.