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Wildfires Threatened W.R. Grace Toxic Site Contaminated With Asbestos

Posted by Michael Throneberry | Feb 21, 2021

Wildfires ravaged forests in the state of Montana are putting a so-called SuperFund site contaminated with asbestos at risk of spreading carcinogenic particles in the air, which could endanger the lives of not only the fire crews battling the blaze but also residents nearby. The perils faced by the nearby towns are just the latest chapter in a decades-old story surrounding the vermiculite mine once owned and operated by W.R. Grace & Co., which has contaminated the nearby town of Libby and led to years of litigation surrounding mesothelioma diagnosis as a result of asbestos emanating from the mine.

The vermiculite mine outside of Libby operated for nearly 70 years, and provided the substance to create insulation material and gardening products, all the while spewing out deadly carcinogenic asbestos fibers into the air and water. Both vermiculite and asbestos are naturally occurring minerals that can be found side by side one another. If companies sourcing and processing vermiculite do not take proper safety precautions, or survey whether it is even safe to operate such a mine, then innocent workers and residents can be at risk of serious health complications like mesothelioma cancer.

As a result of the decades of toxic asbestos contamination, the Environmental Protection Agency designated the area a Superfund site. Under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980, a Superfund trust can be set up by Congress to handle emergency and hazardous waste sites needing long-term cleanup such as the one in Libby. Despite the designation by the federal government, W.R. Grace & Co. has still not followed through with efforts to abate the area of asbestos and create a safe environment in which to work.

Recently, the Montana Supreme Court heard oral arguments concerning an insurance dispute between the state and its underwriters, the National Indemnity Company, owned by Berkshire Hathaway, stemming from settlements between residents of Libby and the state government. As is common in civil tort cases, the state of Montana's insurance company is attempting to skirt its obligation to indemnify the state government for claims paid out to asbestos cancer victims who accused the state of negligence for allowing the mine to operate when it was known to be dangerous to area residents.

Many Libby residents have developed mesothelioma, a rare and deadly cancer that commonly affects thin linings of tissue surrounding vital organs such as the lungs and heart, though it can spread to other parts of the body. Vermiculite is not the only mineral that can be contaminated with asbestos fibers; recent lawsuits allege that many talc-based consumer products like Johnson & Johnson's Baby Powder have been manufactured with asbestos-contaminated talc, leading to many diagnoses of serious forms of cancer, including mesothelioma.

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If you or a loved one was diagnosed with mesothelioma, contact our office to speak to one of our experienced Arizona mesothelioma attorneys about your situation. Our office can help investigate your case and determine if compensation can be sought from negligent parties to help pay for your medical treatment.

About the Author

Michael Throneberry

Attorney Michael Throneberry graduated from Purdue University with a Civil Engineering degree. He then served with the United States Army...

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