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Libby Montana Mesothelioma: Legal News


 

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LibbyMontana – Asbestos Trades –Mesothelioma Lawsuit

Asbestos' death toll climbs in scenicMontana town as EPA struggles with vast cleanup effort

Published May 24, 2010| Associated Press

LIBBY,Montana

LIBBY,Montana. (AP) —GaylaBenefield and Eva Thomson are sisters who have grown used to death. For two decades, they have watched asbestos from a nearby vermiculite mine strangle their parents, Thomson's husband, an aunt, several in-laws and numerous neighbors and friends.

So as they wandered theLibby cemetery on a blusteryMontana morning, they worked the graves like a block party — retelling old stories and commiserating with the dead.

Talk turned totheir own fates.

Both sisters suffer from the microscopic asbestos fibers lodged deep in their lungs. Their breathing is sometimes choked by plaque building up around the fibers. If it progresses intocancerousmesothelioma, they face certain death.

"If you're lucky, you get hit by a truck and you go quickly,"Benefield said, her face betraying no emotion but her voice tight with anger.

The sisters' town,Libby, population 3,000 along theKootenaiRiver, has emerged as the deadliest Superfund site in the nation's history.

Health workers trackingLibby'splight estimate at least 400 people have died of asbestos-related illnesses— from W.R. Grace mine workers and family members who breathed in the dust they brought home in their clothes, to those who played as kids in waste piles dumped by the company behind the community baseball field. Some 1,500 locals and others who were exposed have chest X-rays revealing the faint, cloudy shadows of asbestos scarring on their lungs.

Even though research long showed cause for concern — up to 70 percent of miners in a 1980s study had fibers in their lungs — it took news reports about the deaths to drive officials to action, beginning a decade ago. After the cleanup began, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency confidently predicted it would be done in two years at a cost of $5.8 million. Ten years on, the price tag has exceeded $333 million, the deaths continue, and more asbestos keeps showing up — in schools, in businesses, in hundreds of houses.

The scope of contamination has at times overwhelmed environmental regulators, dragging out the cleanup, an Associated Press review of hundreds of pages of government documents and interviews with current and former agency officials revealed.

News cameras returned toLibby last June, when new EPA chief Lisa Jackson declared a health emergency, a step the agency rejected during the Bush administration.

New patients continue to file into the local clinic to bediagnosed with asbestos illnesses at the rate of 15 to 20 a month. Because of a decades-long latency period, such diagnoses are expected for at least another 10 years.

The EPA this month took its first step toward wrapping up its efforts over the next two to three years, rekindling anxieties.

"Everybody wantsLibby to go away and it's not going away," said Dr. Brad Black, director of Libby's Center for Asbestos Related Diseases. His stethoscope pressed against the back of a 36-year-old patient who never worked in the mine, Black said the man's exposure likely came from playing in a friend's contaminated house as a child.

Some scientists say the threat will exist as long as people remain in Libby — and the notion of moving the whole town has been floated by an attorney for a citizens' group. But just as some residents maintained a fierce loyalty to W.R. Grace even as fatal asbestos illness spread, the idea of moving now is quickly discarded.

"People say, 'Why don't you leave Libby?'"Benefield said. "I've got the fiber in me. That won't make the problem go away.Not at all."

The unfolding tragedy, withmoonsuited contractors carting off contaminated materials as locals go about their business, seems odd and out of place in Libby, where the snowcapped Cabinet Mountains tower over the lush Kootenai Valley as it winds its way toward Idaho.

Established in the 1800s as a mining and fur trading outpost, the town retains its frontier feel. Locals call it "God's Corner."

W.R. Grace bought the vermiculite operation in 1963 and at the mine's peak in the l970s, Grace produced almost 2 million tons of ore annually and employed about 200 miners and others. Vermiculite stripped from the terraced steps carved intoZonoliteMountain was shipped around the world to make insulation.

But unmarketable material — much of it asbestos — made up about 80 percent of the ore. Crushing the rock to remove "nuisance" materials set billions of asbestos fibers loose in clouds of dust that drifted the six miles down to Libby, leaving a powdery trace as light as snow.

If it looked benign, many warnings cried out that it was not. In 1964, workers appealed to the state Board of Health to help clean up the unhealthy conditions. In 1978, word of the problems caused by asbestos from Libby's mine reached the EPA. In 1981, a Grace scientist found that runners on the high school track likely were stirring up dangerous levels of asbestos.

Little was done — despite state-issued orders for the mine to cut down on dust levels and to upgrade filtering equipment. Federal regulators stayed on the sidelines, and the mine remained open until 1990.

Nine years later, EPA finally joined the fray — after the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper detailed the toll of dead and dying that had become too large to ignore.

Grace, which declared bankruptcy in 2001, waged an eight-year court battle to limit its cleanup responsibilities. That ended with a 2008 settlement under which the company paid EPA $250 million.

"They settled the lawsuit," Gracespokesman Greg Euston said. "They are not interested in talking aboutLibby anymore."

At the cemetery,Benefield and Thomson paused before the grave of their mother, MargaretVatland — the first non-mine worker whose death was traced to Libby asbestos. Standing before the marker,Benefield promised her mother she'd come back soon to scrub it clean.

Vatland cared for their father for years until he died from asbestos exposure in 1974; she was diagnosed a decade later. By the time she died, in 1996, her lungs had shriveled "until they looked like two sausages hanging on a stick,"Benefield said.

Since the EPA arrived in 1999, the agency has overseen cleanup work on more than 1,250 homes and businesses.

That includes the removal of 70,000 truckloads of contaminated soil — including from yards where, unaware of the danger years ago, homeowners had tilled vermiculite waste into their gardens. Crews removed waste piles where kids, marveling at how fluffy the material was, how it sparkled in the sun, used to go sliding.

But the cleanup terms have changed repeatedly.

Initially, houses were to be cleaned entirely of asbestos-loaded vermiculite. Two years into the project, the EPA narrowed the effort only to attics.

For the yards around the homes, the EPA at first cleaned up only high-use areas such as swing sets, driveways,gardens. In 2006 that was reversed, and soil is now removed and replaced wherever significant levels of vermiculite are found. The change means the EPA will have to revisit 850 homes for possible additional work.

Last year, Libby's roads and highways were tacked onto the cleanup.

Two EPA Inspector Generalreports, in 2002 and 2006, faulted agency administrators for delays in the baseline scientific risk assessment that typically guides Superfund cleanups. The risk assessment remains incomplete.

Moving forward without the assessment leaves the EPA no way to know when Libby is safe, said RichardTroast, a former EPA toxicologist based inWashington,D.C. who worked on the Libby cleanup for five years. He said staff scientists had been pushing for the assessment since 2001 but their efforts were hampered by senior agency officials.

Moving among the headstones at the cemetery,Benefield and Thomson stopped at the marker for LesSkramstad, a former miner who struggled withBenefield to raise the alarm about Libby when no one wanted to listen. "This was the sidekick here,"Benefield said toSkramstad's grave. "I'd kick ass, Les would take names."

Benefield said one ofSkramstad's granddaughters visited his grave prior to school plays to give him exclusive preview performances.

Buried next toSkramstad is his son, Brent, an Army veteran, logger and musician — "born with a guitar in his hands," according to his obituary. He was 51 years old when he died last year of cancer believed related to asbestos exposure.

EPA andMontana environmental officials say that because of their efforts, the air in Libby and the surrounding area is cleaner today.

"What we want to do on the ground will effectively break the exposure pathway," said EPA spokesman TedLinnert. "It can be the most toxic thing on earth, but no one can be exposed to it."

But the asbestos isn't gone. It lingers behind kitchen walls in the modest houses lining Libby's quiet back streets, just beneath the surface of backyards, at the town park, where a small "No Trespassing" sign is all that separates a picnic area from contaminated ground.

It's also in the trees — tens of thousands of acres of ponderosa pine, larch andlodgepole pine that blanket the surrounding mountain landscape. Logging was long the community's lifeblood, centered at the 1,200-worker Stimson mill, shuttered in 2006 after the forestry industry contracted.

Loggers who worked the area when the mine and mill were active tell stories of dust plumes rising from felled trees. Over time, scientists say, countless asbestos fibers buried themselves in the bark.

Along the BNSF railroad line — used to ship vermiculite in open ore cars to Grace processing plants across the country —University ofMontana researchers have tallied trees with 19 million fibers per gram of bark. One tree close to the mine has more than 500 million fibers per gram.

Still, when asbestos worries first arose, Graceworkers who eventually became sick were among the company's fiercest defenders.

City Councilman D.C. Orr, who worked as a contractor at the mine for almost two decades, recalls joining with others at the mine to eat raw vermiculite as a way to mock the health concerns raised by activists likeBenefield.

When Grace instituted a smoking ban, union bosses representing miners protested and brought the matter to arbitration. They lost. Only years later was it revealed that Grace knew smoking and asbestos made for a particularly deadly combination.

There is a still a modicum of company-town mentality inLibby. Merchants argue that asbestos isn't the only thing killing the town; they talk about the blow the economy took when the EPA first showed up and sparkeda media frenzy, then whenJackson arrived last year.

Tucked among the closed-down storefronts now liningMineral Avenue in downtown Libby are a scattering of stubborn businesses that hung on through the mine and mill closings, the asbestos revelations, the recession.

"If you want, we can go lie down in the street for you and pretend to be dead," GaryNjirich, owner of the Libby Cafe, sarcastically told a reporter.

Njirich, a stocky, 68-year-old former cop, and his wife came to Libby fromNevada in 1994, to run the cafe until they retired. Now they can't sell it.

Sitting at an empty table at the close of another slow day,Njirich gestured toward the quiet street outside the cafe's bay windows and blamed a hyped-up imageof Libby as a death trap. "There has to be some point and rationale where we say we're going to live with this," he said.

Stories of the living and the dead intertwine forBenefield and Thomson, who have been to the cemetery so often over the years. To them it's all one community, with some folks above ground, some below.

Thomson chuckled as she pointed to another asbestos victim's grave. Divorced, he ended up buried between his two deceased mothers-in-law for all eternity.

Benefield, a former bartender and truck driver, said she's been to four asbestos-related funerals so far this year and has started making preparations for her own burial. So has Thomson, who bought a plot alongside her deceased husband, Dale, a supervisor for Grace who died at age 61 in 1992.

No one has gone to jail for what happened in Libby.

Several Graceexecutives were prosecuted on charges of covering up the asbestos danger. But they were found not guilty last fall. U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy ruled many internal memos and other documents that suggested Grace's culpability could not be used as evidence because some were decades old.

In 1998,Benefield and Thomson won the first court victory for secondary asbestos exposure against Grace, a $250,000 civil award for the death of their mother. That triumph has long since been overshadowed by loss.

Benefield said every adult member of her family more than 47 years old has been diagnosed with asbestos scarring. The latest, her older daughter, got the news in February.

After looping through the cemetery, its long rows of well-tended graves broken periodically by freshly turned earth,Benefield and Thomson walked back to their mother's grave.

Crows in nearby trees cawed incessantly as the sisters considered what has happened here since the EPA arrived.

"After 10 years, how far have we come?"Benefield asked. "We've removed a lot of material. We've buried a lot of people. My God, it's a nightmare."

Matthew Brown is an Associated Press staff writer based inBillings,Mont. He can be reached atfeatures(at)ap.org.

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2010/05/24/asbestos-death-toll-climbs-scenic-montana-town-epa-struggles-vast-cleanup/

 
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LibbyMontana – Asbestos Exposure – Asbestos Related Deaths

 

Grace criminal trialbegins, and both sides claim the same corporate documents prove guilt and innocence

It has been years in the making, and many people, especially those inLibby, Montana., never thought it would happen, but the W.R. Grace & Co. criminal trial has finally started. It began in the federal courthouse inMissoula with six hours of arguments on why the five men and seven women in the jury should vote with whichever side was speaking at the moment.

Here's a link totomorrow's PI story.

I have been chasing the technical, legal and regulatory issues surrounding theasbestos poisoning of thousands of people in Libby since theSeattle P-I broke the story a decade ago. And I didn't understand some of the arguments that the prosecution and defense were making.

Oh, do I pity the jurors, and it's only the first day.

Both sides addressed many of the same Grace corporate documents, letters, memos and reports. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kris McLean and Kevin Cassidy, senior lawyer for the Justice Department's Environmental Crimes Section, spoke of many, saying each was proof of criminal action by Grace and many of its officials and executives. DavidBernick, who heads Grace's legal team, told the jury that many of the identical pieces of paperproves his client's innocence.

I watched Libby activistGaylaBenefield andNoritaSkranstad cringe at many ofBernick's assertions.

Picture
Norita with Les' hat

What hurt was watchingNoritia clutching the cowboy hat that belonged to Les, her husband.

The sweet-voiced singing cowboy and Libby miner called me on New Year's Eve, Dec. 31, 2007. He said he wasn't going to live to see "Grace held accountable" and made me promise that someone would take his favorite hat to the trial. Hedied ofmesothelioma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer, 24 days later.

It hurt seeing that.

But back to what else happened today.

The courtroom style of McLean andBernick differ as greatly as their individual missions on U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy's battlefield.

McLean has done an exquisite job of bringing the criminal allegations from an investigation to two runs at the grand jury, through the dangerous brier patch that needed to be navigated to appease the judge and finally before the jury today. He's solid and knowledgeable, and like most federal prosecutors, he shuns glitzy playing for the jury. Unfortunately, it showed.

WatchingBernick during his two-hour opening statement, it was quickly apparent why Grace is paying him $800 to $1,000 an hour, plus.

He used huge, colorful charts, almost constant hand gestures and expressions, raising and lowering his voice to emphasize his view or discredit a point made by the government. The jury hung on almost every word.Quite a showman.

Let's hope the jury appreciates substance over style.

Close

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Posted by Andrew Schneiderat February 23, 2009 9:43 p.m.

http://blog.seattlepi.com/secretingredients/archives/162661.asp?from=blog_last3

 
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LibbyMontana – Asbestos Exposure – Asbestos Mines

Closed mine's asbestos still kills inLibby, Mont.

 

Samples of vermiculite and tremolite asbestos, a deadly waste byproduct of vermiculite mining, are shown at the EPA in Libby. (Associated Press)

 

Samples of vermiculite andtremolite asbestos, a deadly waste byproduct of vermiculite mining, are shown at the EPA in Libby. (Associated Press)

 

By Matthew Brown ASSOCIATED PRESS

4:17 p.m., Monday, May 31, 2010

LIBBY,Montana. |GaylaBenefield and Eva Thomson are sisters who have grown used to death. For two decades, they have watched asbestos from a nearby vermiculite mine strangle their parents, Mrs. Thomson's husband, an aunt, several in-laws and many neighbors and friends.

So as they wandered theLibby cemetery on a blusteryMontana morning, they retold old stories and commiserated with the dead. Talk turned totheir own fates.

Both sisters suffer from the microscopic asbestos fibers lodged deep in their lungs. Their breathing is sometimes choked by plaque building up around the fibers. If it progresses intocancerousmesothelioma, they face certain death.

"If you're lucky, you get hit by a truck and you go quickly," Mrs.Benefield said.

The sisters' town,Libby, population 3,000 along theKootenaiRiver, has emerged as the deadliest Superfund site in the nation's history.

Health workers trackingLibby's plight estimate that at least 400 people have died of asbestos-related illnesses — from W.R. Grace mine workers and family members who breathed in the dust they brought home in their clothes, to those who played as children in waste piles dumped by the company behind the community baseball field. About 1,500 locals and others who were exposed have chest X-rays revealing the faint, cloudy shadows of asbestos scarring on their lungs.

Even though research long showed cause for concern — up to 70 percent of miners in a 1980s study had fibers in their lungs — it took news reports about the deaths to drive officials to action, beginning a decade ago. After the cleanup began, the Environmental Protection Agency confidently predicted it would be done in two years at a cost of $5.8 million. Ten years on, the price tag has exceeded $333 million, the deaths continue, and more asbestos keeps showing up in schools, businesses and hundreds of houses.

The scope of contamination has at times overwhelmed environmental regulators, dragging out the cleanup, an Associated Press review of hundreds of pages of government documents and interviews with current and former agency officials reveals

In June 2009, new EPA chief Lisa Jackson declared a health emergency. New patients continue to file into the local clinic and are diagnosed with asbestos illnesses at the rate of 15 to 20 a month.

The EPA this month took its first step toward wrapping up its efforts over the next two to three years, rekindling anxieties.

© Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

 

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/may/31/closed-mines-asbestos-still-kills-in-libby-mont/

 
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LibbyMontana – Asbestos Related Deaths

L.A. Tops Nation In Asbestos-Linked Deaths

Mar 4, 2004 |Los Angeles Daily News

 

Los AngelesCounty has more asbestos-related deaths than anywhere else in the country, and the incidence of illness caused by the mineral is expected to rise over the next 20 years, a report released today says.

The report by the Environmental Working Group estimated that 1,227 county residents died of asbestos-related illness from 1979 to 2001, slightly more than the 1,051 inCookCounty, Illinois., which encompasses theChicago area. Nationwide, some 10,000 people died of asbestos-related disease in 2002.

Experts saidLos Angeles' large population, plus the widespread asbestos use in the shipping industry and post-World War II construction, help explain the county's high death figures.

"We were just floored when we looked at the deaths from this substance," said Richard Wiles, senior vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based environmental group. "We need to think of this as a 50-year problem because we still haven't banned asbestos.

Asbestos fibers can become embedded in the lungs and cause asbestosis essentially, scar tissue in the lungs or a usually fatal form of cancer calledmesothelioma. Not all people exposed to asbestos become ill, but even small amounts can cause mesothelioma.

Until its dangers became well-known, asbestos was commonly used in construction and insulation materials and as a fire retardant. Its use peaked in the mid-1970s, when there were more than 3,000 asbestos-laced products on the market, though there were few safeguards for workers and their families exposed to asbestos dust.

Even today, asbestos is used in some cement pipes, vinyl floor tiles, duct insulation, floor backing and decorative plaster.

Cancer and other diseases linked to asbestos can remain dormant for 20 to 50 years, meaning people who worked with the fibers before safeguards were phased in during the 1970s could still develop potentially fatal illnesses.

U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has proposed the creation of a trust fund, financed by asbestos manufacturers and insurance companies, to handle lawsuits filed by asbestos victims and their families without bankrupting businesses.

Insurance companies anticipate $120 billion in asbestos claims worldwide and have pushed for national legislation to cut litigation, streamline the compensation process and set aside money to help people diagnosed with asbestos diseases.

"We know that 90 percent of current claimants have no signs of illnesses, but they are trying to get in before all these companies go bankrupt," said Peter Moraga, spokesman for the Insurance Information Network of California.

Already, some 70 companies have filed for bankruptcy protection.

Michelle Harrington has filed a $100,000 claim against W.R. Grace, which declared bankruptcy in 2001, in part because of damages awarded in wrongful-death suits stemming from its mine inLibby,Mont., where some 200 townspeopledied from asbestos-related diseases.

The owner of Harrington Tools is seeking to be reimbursed for having to clean up asbestos contamination in theWest San Fernando Road building she bought in 1992 a structure previously owned by a company that processed more than 100,000 tons of insulation, using asbestos from theLibby mine.

"Not being my responsibility or my fault, I was absolutely furious," Harrington said. "Private companies cannot be held responsible or accountable for something they never did."

California toxicologists are analyzing historical cancer and cause-of-death data in the neighborhood around theWest San Fernando Road plant as part of a national study of plants that processed theLibby material potentially discovering a new group of victims who might seek compensation.

 

|Los Angeles Daily News
 
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1965Armstongasbestos tile commercial

n 1860, Thomas M. Armstrong, the son ofScotish-Irish immigrants from Londonderry, joined with John D. Glass to open a one-room shop in Pittsburgh...

 
Lion Salt Works - Enabling Works - Removal of Asbestos SheetingAdded to
Quicklist
7:51

Lion Salt Works - Enabling Works - Removal of Asbestos Sheeting

The removal of asbestos roofing sheets are part of the enabling works to prepare the site of the last working open pan salt works for restoration.

 
Asbestos in electrical work 1959Added to
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0:58

Asbestos in electrical work 1959

This was clipped from the 1959 film, Asbestos a matter of time, by the US Bureau of Mines, Department of the Interior.

 
 
Asbestos Tragedy Libby Montana 2004 USEPAAdded to
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2:36

Asbestos Tragedy Libby Montana 2004 USEPA

Processed vermiculite from the WR Grace Libby MT Mine containedtremolite, a form ofasbestos, that was allowed to contaminate local

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Video: Old Promotional Film For AsbestosAdded to
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3:45

Video: Old Promotional FilmForAsbestos

www.searchmesothelioma.net Both the government and corporate industry used promotional newsreel type films during the 1950s and 1960s topromote...

 
Introduction to Asbestos from 1959Added to
Quicklist
2:30

Introduction toAsbestos from 1959

This clip is from the 1959 film, "Asbestos: a Matter of Time," by the Bureau of Mines (US Department of the Interior.) The entire filmis..

 
 
 
 
Mesothelioma
Added to

Quicklist0:36

Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma Quick Facts

 
 
mesotheliomaAdded to
Quicklist
8:31

mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is an incurableasbestos cancer. This short film was produced to raise awareness of the issues aroundmesothelioma.

 
Pleural Mesothelioma: a foreseable and avoidable deathAdded to
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10:01

PleuralMesothelioma: aforeseable and avoidabledeath

Epidemiologic observations on an anatomical-pathologic and clinic case study from 1997 to 2006 - Service of Preventive Medicine

 
Documentary Asbestos The Silent KillerAdded to
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4:38

Documentary AsbestosThe Silent Killer

Documentary on the effects of the exposed toasbestos.

 
 
 
Mesothelioma
Added to

Quicklist2:36

Mesothelioma

MesotheliomaCan be cured

Mesothelioma in pictures.

 
Asbestos The Silent Killer Part 1 of 3
Added to

Quicklist8:45

AsbestosThe Silent Killer Part 1 of 3

Produced by United Steelworkers Local 480 at theTeckCominco Smelter in Trail, BC, this hard-hitting documentary examines the devastatinghuman...

 
 
 
 
 
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