Contributing Monkie G Living Staff Monkies
Published on March 28, 2008
Filed Under Green Report / Media
W.R. Grace, made infamous in the movie “A Civil Action”, made news again in March for its irresponsible environmental management. This time, the folks affected live in Libby, Montana, a tiny town bordered by the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness on the south and Kootenai River on the north. An idyllic little piece of the American West that has been nearly destroyed by corporate greed, misinformation and (some allege) outright lies.
Libby is now the focus of one of the largest Superfund cleanups in the nation due to asbestos. W.R. Grace operated a vermiculite mine for years in the hills outside Libby and misled mine’s employees and the town’s government about the dangers of their operations.
Vermiculite is a naturally occurring mineral that usually (but not always) contains asbestos. And the vermiculite around Libby was loaded with the stuff, making mining it there lucrative for Grace. After years of public meetings, lack of both federal and state response, and information campaigns designed to confuse, Superfund finally fined Grace $250 million to clean up the town – the largest fine ever.
And why not? Nearly every home in Libby used the cheap, fireproof vermiculite insulation, gardens were enhanced with the stuff, and even the high school track and several streets in town were paved with mine tailings. There’s so much asbestos in the town that no one is sure how long it will take to eliminate the risk. Most important however, scores of people have died and hundreds more have been sickened with incurable asbestosis simply by breathing.
From where I sit, $250 million seems like a small price to pay.
Check out the Superfund site for information about cleanup sites near you.