W.R. Grace must pay to clean up asbestos mess in Montana, Supreme Court decides

W.R. Grace & Co. must pay $54.5 million to remove asbestos-contaminated soil from the mining town of Libby, Mont., the Supreme Court decided yesterday. The U.S. EPA sued the company five years ago to recover cleanup costs; a lower court ruled in the agency’s favor and Grace appealed, but the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and now the U.S. Supreme Court have both upheld that lower-court ruling. Libby is among the most contaminated Superfund sites in the U.S., thanks to Grace’s nearly-30-year operation of a mine for asbestos-tainted vermiculite. The Libby mine once produced about 80 percent of the world’s supply of vermiculite, which was used as insulation in hundreds of thousands of buildings. In its ruling, the 9th Circuit Court wrote that about 12,000 residents of Libby and nearby communities “face ongoing, pervasive exposure to asbestos particles … We cannot escape the fact that people are sick and dying as a result of this continuing exposure.” Several former Grace bigwigs are being investigated in a separate criminal case for allegedly concealing health risks at the mine.