Montana Residents Sue Company for Health Violations

Two class action lawsuits brought on behalf of residents of Libby, Mont., seek punitive and compensatory damages from W.R. Grace & Co. for its alleged disbursement of tremolite-containing asbestos into the air.

Two class action lawsuits were filed yesterday against W.R. Grace & Co. in Federal District Court in Missoula, Mont.

One action, brought on behalf of residents in the Libby, Mont., area seeks remediation of properties allegedly contaminated with tremolite asbestos resulting from W.R. Grace & Co.'s vermiculite mining and processing practices.

In the second action, present and former residents in Libby seek long-term medical diagnostic care for those exposed to tremolite asbestos.

Both actions ask the court to award punitive damages to the community of Libby an award that could be used by the residents for such purposes as future economic development and community renewal.

The suits allege that by 1968 Grace knew that its Libby vermiculite expanding plant was disbursing approximately 7 to 9 tons of tremolite-containing dust into the air in the Libby community.

The suit also contends that a 1969 Grace in-house study revealed a lung disease rate of 92 percent in Libby workers who worked more than 20 years at the mine, but that Grace did not disclose its study to the public or the medical community.

Further, the suite contends that Grace, which operated the mine until 1990, intentionally misrepresented to doctors and to workers that tremolite had not been associated with mesothelioma, a fatal form of cancer.

Reports show that 150 miners and their family members have died from asbestos-related diseases and another 375 people have been diagnosed.

Grace's practices, according to the suit, have contaminated buildings, homes and properties, requiring extensive and expensive remediation.

Libby residents have also invested money in obtaining long-term diagnostic care ensuring early detection of tremolite asbestos caused diseases.

The suit is seeking punitive and compensatory damages from Grace.

In response to local concern about the asbestos-contaminated vermiculite, EPA, Region 8 sent an Emergency Response Team to Libby in late November 1999.

The team immediately began assessing the situation and collecting information.

In December 1999, the EPA team collected nearly 700 samples of air, soil, dust and insulation.

In January, EPA released the indoor air sample results. The agency is still waiting for the results of the soil, dust and insulation samples. The results of these samples are expected back in March.

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