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W.R. Grace Facing 110,000 Asbestos Lawsuits

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Libby, MNA company facing a reported 110,000 lawsuits for sickening thousands of people and contributing to the deaths of 225 by exposing them to deadly asbestos—allegedly with full knowledge—will now face a criminal trial brought by the US government.

W.R. Grace & Co. filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001, and just this past spring agreed to the establishment of a $3 billion trust fund as terms of a settlement linked to the thousands of lawsuits against the company citing asbestos exposure. The fund, which apparently will allow the company to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, will be used to pay the claims of those individuals harmed by asbestos, or to the families of those who have died.

Asbestos StreamHowever, the settlement doesn't discount the criminal trial that W.R. Grace still must face over the allegation that it exposed innocent people to asbestos, a known carcinogen, and did nothing about it. The company, along with six of its executives, was charged three years ago with violating the federal Clean Air Act by allowing the release of asbestos from a vermiculite mine into the air over Libby, Montana.

Prosecutors claimed that the company was aware that what they were releasing into the air was toxic and potentially lethal. The company, for its part, argued that the definition of asbestos put forward by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not cover most of the substances extracted from the mine.

While a federal district court judge initially sided with the company, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the ruling, and in June the US Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by W.R. Grace, paving the way for the criminal charge.

It was also reported that the high court refused to hear a separate appeal put forward by executives of W.R. Grace, who could each face sentences of up to 15 years in prison.

The circumstances with regard to the W.R. Grace case are undeniably reprehensible if proven true given what is known about asbestos, and the various asbestos-related diseases—including asbestosis and asbestos mesothelioma—that spring from the carcinogen. Not only were workers allegedly allowed to toil in toxic conditions in the mine, but the expulsion of asbestos dust into the air had the capacity to affect entire families—anyone who lived in, or within close proximity to Libby.

Attorneys representing various plaintiffs claim that asbestos from the mine has sickened 2000 of the town's residents, and more than two hundred have died. Asbestos-related disease has a long incubation period, often taking decades to surface. Once symptoms appear, death can be long and arduous, and there is no known cure.

While the company works through more than 100,000 lawsuits filed against it for negligent asbestos exposure, it is hoped that the criminal trial against the individuals allegedly responsible for allowing that exposure, will soon commence.

While victims will be hoping for a stiff sentence for each, a more fitting outcome might be to simply lock the defendants in a room filled with asbestos dust, and leave them there for awhile...


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