Asbestos Settlement of $43M Approved Over Dust from Montana Mine

The State of Montana and more than 1,100 residents of the small town of Libby have reached a $43 million settlement over damages caused by asbestos exposure from a nearby mine. 

Residents of Libby accused state officials of knowing for years that the W.R. Grace & Company mine located just outside of town was a health hazard, and alleged that the state failed to step in on their behalf.

Some estimate that 400 residents have died and another 1,750 suffered asbestos-related illnesses due to contaminated dust from the mine that settled in the town for decades.

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Before it was shut down about 20 years ago, the mine supplied about 70 percent of the nation’s vermiculite, which contains termolite asbestos, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock originally threw out the residents’ lawsuit in 2007, but the Montana Supreme Court overturned his decision. Sherlock approved the Asbestos settlement between the state and residents last week.

Libby has a population of only 3,000, and the surrounding area has a total of about 12,000 people. Officials estimate that the rate of asbestos-related health problems in Libby are 40 to 60 times the national average and cancer from asbestos exposure is 100 times higher than the national average.

The EPA declared a public health emergency as a result of the Libby asbestos problems in 2009, with total costs coming to $370 million to clean up the area and provide proper medical care to residents.

Asbestos can lead to the development of mesothelioma cancer and asbestosis, which are often not discovered for many years after the exposure. Asbestosis is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that can prove fatal. Mesothelioma is an extremely fatal form of cancer that attacks the lining of the chest and lungs, which can go undetected for decades. Both diseases are contracted through breathing in of asbestos fibers.

More than 1,173 residents impacted by asbestos mine dust will receive payments from the state ranging from $500 to $50,000 as a result of the settlement.

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