Wednesday, February 09, 2005

More Fallout From A Health Disaster

W.R. Grace Co. and several individual company officials are the subject of a federal indictment for allegedly allowing asbestos to endanger the health of miners and the community in Libby, Mont.

I was working in MSHA at the time the story of the widespread contamination first hit the press. As part of my job, I had to review extensive records that were requested by the news media under FOIA. The mine dated back to the early 1900's. Inspection records showed that Federal mine inspectors from the 1950's on used whatever knowledge and legal tools they had (not much at first) to try to get asbestos exposure reduced in the the mine and mill. At one point, they issued a closure order. Gradually standards tighened and measured levels of contamination did fall, but much of the damage was already done, and a lot of the community apparently had been contaminated, apart from the mine and mill themselves.

If memory serves, W.R. Grace bought the operation sometime in the 1960's.

From the news story, Grace is -- among other things -- being accused of hindering EPA in its efforts to investigates the problem when it became public knowledge, after lawsuits were filed, in about 1999. Reportedly hundreds of miners, family members and other residents of Libby have contracted cancer and asbestosis.


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