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W.R. Grace Proposed Asbestos Bankruptcy Plan

Zonolite Asbestos InsulationW.R. Grace owned and operated vermiculite asbestos mines out of Libby, Montana.  Vermiculite Mountain was first discovered in 1913 and commercial mining  began ten years later in 1923.  By 1950, the mine was producing more than 150,000 tons of Zonolite per year.  Zonolite is the brand name for the asbestos and insulation products made from asbestos from the mine.   

By the early to mid-1950’s, it was clear that exposure to asbestos caused irreversible illnesses, such as asbestosis (a scarring of the lungs), mesothelioma (cancer in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart) and other types of asbestos cancer. 

By 1960, reports were indicating not only abnormally high numbers of illnesses related to asbestos in Libby workers but also extremely high concentrations of asbestos dust at the mine.  It was in 1963 that W.R. Grace bought Zonolite, reportedly unaware of the dangers of the vermiculite asbestos stemming from the mine.

Mineworkers from Libby filed their first asbestosis claim in 1967, and while some new practices were put in place, the mine continued to stay open and fully operational.  It was not until 23 years later in 1990 that Grace finally closed the Libby mine and mill and land reclamation work began.    

By 2001, more than 110, 000 asbestos lawsuits had been filed against Grace, causing them to file for bankruptcy protection in Wilmington, Delaware.  By filing for bankruptcy protection, all lawsuits and claims were put on hold until a reorganization plan could be approved and an asbestos bankruptcy trust created to pay all claimants injured by asbestos products linked to W.R. Grace.

In January of 2012, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Judith Fitzgerald approved Grace’s reorganization plan.  The final step left, if no appeals are made on Fitzgerald’s ruling, is for the U.S. District Court in Delaware to confirm the Grace’s plan.  To read more about Fitzgerald’s ruling and the status of W.R. Grace’s reorganization plan, click here.