Company Ordered to Pay for Cleanup of Montana Town

In the largest trial judgment awarded in the history of the Superfund law, a federal judge yesterday ordered W.R. Grace and Co. to repay the $54.5 million the federal government spent cleaning up asbestos contamination in the town of Libby, Mont. The company and its subsidiary had already agreed to pay $33 million of the expense, but said they were not responsible for the additional $21.5 million — a position with which U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy did not sympathize. From 1963 to 1990, Grace operated a vermiculite mine in Libby that spread asbestos fibers throughout the town and ultimately caused hundreds of deaths and countless health problems. The Justice Department hailed the ruling against the company, saying, “from the beginning of this case, W.R. Grace has refused to accept responsibility for contaminating this small town.”