Saving Grace

First the Environmental Protection Agency insulated W.R. Grace from claims that it poisoned workers and neighbors — and now, it seems, bankruptcy laws will.

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


For years, residents of Libby, Montana, were certain that they were being poisoned by W.R. Grace & Company’s vermiculite mine on the outskirts of town (see the Mother Jones magazine article, Libby’s Deadly Grace.) Now the Environmental Protection Agency has admitted that for years it had strong evidence showing the townspeople were right — but did little in response.

On Tuesday, the EPA’s inspector general declared that the agency had failed to act on its own data showing the dangers posed by the high levels of asbestos in Libby vermiculite, including a 1982 internal report that warned of “significant adverse health effects” among people working with the ore. Instead, the EPA continued to rely on figures provided by W.R. Grace showing only trace amounts of asbestos in the vermiculite.

But the EPA’s disclosure may come too late to help Libby residents. W.R. Grace filed for bankruptcy on Monday, blaming “a sharply increasing number of asbestos claims” for its financial woes. The filing stops some 124,000 claims against the company, including unresolved cases from Libby. Last year, W.R. Grace reported an 81 percent increase in asbestos claims — many of which the company declares “unmeritorious.” The company has already paid out nearly $2 billion in asbestos-related claims.

Meanwhile, Libby is facing even more bad news. Preliminary findings from a recent study by the federal Agency for Toxic Studies and Disease Registry indicate that a third of the Libby residents who lived near or worked in the vermiculite mine have signs of asbestos-caused disease. A Spokane, Wash., pulmonary specialist who treats many Libby-area residents warned last year that new cases of asbestos-related disease may continue surfacing for the next 30 years.

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate