FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEENRD
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 2000(202) 514-2007
WWW.USDOJ.GOVTDD (202) 514-1888
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SUES W.R. GRACE & CO. AND
KOOTENAI DEVELOPMENT CO. TO GAIN ACCESS FOR ASBESTOS CLEAN-UP
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The federal government sued W.R. Grace & Co. and Kootenai Development Company today, seeking immediate access to property near Libby, Montana, in order to clean up asbestos contamination.
In a complaint filed in federal court in Missoula, the Justice Department on behalf of EPA asks the court to order the companies to allow full access to a former vermiculite mine and portions of a former vermiculite processing plant. The properties once were operated by Grace and are now owned by Kootenai Development Company (KDC), which is controlled by Grace.
On July 19, 2000, the EPA asked Grace and KDC to grant it unconditional access to the properties, but the companies refused. The agency seeks to enter the processing plant area in order to remove asbestos-contaminated soil. In addition, the Agency wants access to the former mine to carry out cleanup activities and dispose of asbestos-contaminated soil that is being removed from the area around the screening plant.
The EPA does not currently have full access to these properties. Initially, KDC had assured EPA that the agency would have access to the contaminated property to carry out its investigation and clean up. But on July 18, Grace informed EPA that it had acquired ownership of KDC's stock and, in the same communication, revoked any agreements between KDC and EPA concerning site access. Grace also has, at times, blocked EPA and its contractors from entering any of the property to do sampling.
The property became contaminated with asbestos over a 70-year period as vermiculite, which was used in home insulation and other products, was mined from the mountainous area and processed in and around Libby. The vermiculite ore was commingled with asbestos. Mining began at the site in about 1919 and continued until 1990, when Grace shut down the mine. Grace owned the property from 1963 until the early 1990s, when it sold the mine and two processing plants to KDC and other entities.
Beginning in November 1999, EPA and its contractors have conducted numerous investigations into asbestos contamination at several locations within the site, identifying soil at the screening plant with asbestos concentrations as high as 12 percent by weight. An initial investigation of the former mine showed high concentrations of asbestos in the tailings pile and tailings pond.
Asbestos, a recognized human carcinogen, is known to cause lung cancer and mesothelioma, a lethal tumor of the lining of the chest and abdominal cavities. Soil containing asbestos may pose a risk to the health and safety of people residing in contaminated areas and in the surrounding community.
EPA is continuing to clean up residential areas around the processing plant that are not owned by KDC and Grace.