W.R. Grace to Pay Toward Cleanup of Hazardous Waste Sites

W.R. Grace, a global supplier of specialty chemicals, has agreed to a $34 million bankruptcy settlement for cleanup costs at 32 Superfund sites across the country, the Justice Department announced. The action settles a bankruptcy claim brought by the federal government to recover money for Superfund site cleanup.

“This settlement will make money available to substantially help the cleanup of many Superfund sites around the country,” said Ronald J. Tenpas, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This settlement is a good outcome for both the taxpayers and the environment.”

The settlement will be used to reimburse EPA for past costs and to pay for future costs associated with cleaning up at hazardous waste sites in 18 states. The federal government determined that W.R. Grace contributed to the contamination at the sites. Superfund is the federal program that investigates and cleans up the most complex uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites in the country.

W.R. Grace and 61 affiliated companies filed for bankruptcy in April 2001. In March 2003, EPA filed claims against the company to recover past and future cleanup costs. Upon approval of the Bankruptcy Court, EPA will have an allowed claim in Grace's bankruptcy. Grace's plan of reorganization will determine the extent to which allowed claims will be paid.

The settlement agreement does not resolve environmental claims related to the cleanup of the Libby Asbestos site in Libby, Mont., — thought by many to be one of the most polluted sites in the Unites States — and the Curtis Bay site near Baltimore. These claims still are pending.

In 2003 in the largest judgment after trial in the history of the federal Superfund law, the Justice Department and EPA announced that the District Court of Montana ordered W.R. Grace & Co. to pay over $54.5 million to reimburse the federal government for the costs of investigation and cleanup of asbestos contamination in Libby, Mont.

In the ruling issued by Judge Donald W. Molloy of the District Court of Montana, the court said W.R. Grace was liable for costs related to the investigation and cleanup of asbestos contamination in Libby W.R. Grace owned and operated a vermiculite mine and vermiculite processing facilities in Libby from 1963 to 1990. The vermiculite ore found in Libby is contaminated with asbestos fibers.

Mining and processing activities resulted in the spread of vermiculite — and the associated asbestos fibers — to numerous homes, businesses and schools throughout the town.

Hundreds of people in Libby, including former mine workers, their families and other residents, have exhibited signs and symptoms of asbestos-related disease. The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry conducted medical testing for Libby residents in the summer of 2000, and observed pleural abnormalities in 18 percent of the people who participated. ATSDR also found that mortality in Libby from asbestosis was 40 to 80 times higher than expected, and mortality from lung cancer was 20 percent to 30 percent higher than expected.

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