Missoulian, February 2, 2000

Greed driving asbestos lawsuit, Grace says

Missoulian State Bureau

HELENA -- W.R. Grace and Co. on Tuesday expressed surprise and questioned the motive of the law firms that filed a class action lawsuit against the company for medical monitoring and environmental cleanup on behalf of people who have lived and worked in Libby and possibly were exposed to asbestos.

"You have to question the motives of the lawyers filing the lawsuit when the relief sought is already under way," William M. Corcoran, vice president for public and regulatory affairs for W.R. Grace, said in a press release.

On Monday, law firms in Spokane and San Francisco filed a lawsuit seeking an undetermined amount for medical monitoring and cleanup in connection with the asbestos-contaminated vermiculite mining operations in Libby for more than 60 years. They filed the lawsuit on behalf of what they expect will be a class of 26,000 current or former Libby residents who could have been exposed to asbestos from the vermiculite mine formerly owned by W.R. Grace.

The suit also covers possibly thousands of others around the nation who worked at processing plants that received raw tremolite ore from the Libby mine.

Corcoran said Grace already has put forward a proposal to fund an independent medical monitoring program to provide medical coverage to anyone in Libby diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease after the independent screening is done. He said Grace officials have been in discussions with St. John's Lutheran Hospital, the state and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to ensure their actions are coordinated and complementary with each other.

"We were very surprised to see the class action lawsuit filed by two out-of-state law firms, who, to the best of our knowledge, have not been involved in Libby before, asking for essentially what we have agreed in principle," Corcoran said. "Our only conclusion is that they have come forward at this time in order to capitalize on events in Libby to try and extract a big fee from Grace for essentially doing nothing."

Despite "this greed-driven attempt to take advantage of the situation," Corcoran said Grace officials remain committed to working with the parties to get the screening program off the ground as quickly as possible. "It is our hope that this lawsuit will not interfere with what is the best interest of the people of Libby," he said.