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The $54 million question

Libby, Montana is a city that no one wants to live in. The city once boomed from the mining of vermiculite (an asbestos containing mineral) but now it has the dubious Superfund label and growing numbers of the town’ residents have been sickened by asbestos released in the air.

At the moment, the Columbia, MD chemical and industrial manufacturing company is under bankruptcy protection due to the swarms of lawsuits that sprang up over their liability for Libby but also for exposure deaths caused by their products.

The toll is staggering, Libby is a small town but nearly 1 in 8 residents has some kind of asbestos related ailments and estimates put the number of deaths related to the asbestos mining at over 200 (the mine has been closed since 1990).

In 1999 news outlets began to report on the high number of respiratory infections and deaths within Libby. EPA investigators found the town to be contaminated and began the process of containing the site.

W.R. Grace which still disputes responsibility recently tried to get out of a $54 million bill to cover clean up costs. Earlier this year, their appeal was rejected without comment by The United States Supreme Court.

The government is also pursuing 7 of its former high level managers on charges that they conspired to conceal the health risks of the mine. The trial is currently pending but should be heard in early 2007.