W.R. Grace asbestos cleanups are going on in more places than just Libby, Montana and Spokane, Washington these days.
A story today by Nancy H. Gonter in The Republican, a publication covering Western Massachusetts, says the Environmental Protection Agency will help clean up vermiculite contamination in the dirt around a former W.R. Grace factory in the small city of Easthampton, Mass. The Easthampton plant, in operation from about 1949 to 1989, reportedly received 258,000 tons of asbestos-contaminated vermiculite ore from Libby, Montana. It manufactured Grace’s Zonolite attic insulation.
According to the Gonter article, the contaminated soil is under a 1,000-foot section of land and is 6 to 12 inches deep.
(To read the full story, click here.)
In June, the EPA made a first-of-its-kind declaration and announced a public health emergency in Libby, where area residents are suffering an epidemic of asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma, a rare cancer, and asbestosis, a scarring of the lungs. People who live in and around Libby die from asbestosis at a rate 40 to 80 times normal, government studies show.
The Grace facility in Libby, operated by the company from 1963 until 1990, shipped vast tons of asbestos-laced vermiculite around the nation and the world. It’s estimated that more than 70 percent of the world’s supply of vermiculite — used in insulation, fireproofing and gardening products — came from the Libby mine.
W.R. Grace, a global supplier of specialty chemicals, declared bankruptcy in 2001 amid an avalanche of asbestos-related claims. As part of a bankruptcy agreement, the company last year agreed to a $34 million bankruptcy settlement for cleanup costs at 32 Superfund sites in 18 states across the country.
Grace, of course, has been linked to other types of public health disasters, as well. Viewers of the John Travolta/Robert Duvall movie A Civil Action (based on the fine 1996 book by Jonathan Harr) know the company for the groundwater contamination it caused in Woburn, Mass., in the 1970s. Grace paid $8 million in 1986 to settle claims that its poisoning of the water with toxic chemicals caused the deaths of five children and an adult.
To read about Libby cleanup activities from the EPA, click here.