W.R. Grace History of Asbestos Use
- Years in Operation: 1854 – present
- Location: Columbia, Maryland
- Production: Chemicals, construction materials
- Asbestos Trust: Yes
W.R. Grace began by focusing on the chemical industry, producing materials such as industrial catalysts, silica gels, desiccants, sealants and much more. Throughout the early and middle 1900s, Grace sought to expand the business and acquired several other chemical companies and companies that created construction products. They then became responsible for the production of cement, insulation, paints, industrial coatings and many other materials.
Their acquisition of these companies is when their primary affiliation with asbestos products began. In 1954, W.R. Grace acquired Davison Chemical Company and Dewey & Almy Chemical Company, and in 1963 they acquired Zonolite. With their acquisitions, they also began to sell Monokote and Perltex brand-named products, which are well-known for containing asbestos.
In addition to their involvement with the asbestos product industry, W.R. Grace also was involved with asbestos mining. In the 1920s, Zonolite began mining vermiculite in Libby, Montana. Libby is one of the largest asbestos contamination sites in the world, leading to vermiculite insulation contaminated with the mineral. When W.R. Grace took over Zonolite, they also took over their mining operations, which continued until 1990. Around 80% of the world’s vermiculite came from Libby, linking Grace to asbestos-containing vermiculite products across the United States and internationally.
The asbestos was not only in products like insulation and soil conditioners, but also led to environmental contamination, found in the soil, air, water and animal tissues.
As with many other asbestos companies, W.R. Grace knew about the dangers of asbestos, but neglected to protect their workers. Evidence has found that when W.R. Grace acquired the Libby mines, they became aware of the dangers of asbestos to their miners. An X-ray survey performed on 130 workers in 1959 found that 48 had evidence of lung disease from asbestos. The workers had been mining ore that contained 30% tremolite, a type of asbestos.
In addition to this acquired knowledge, W.R. Grace funded a study in 1976 in an attempt to prove that tremolite asbestos did not cause mesothelioma. The company was hoping to defend their use of asbestos as claims were rising about the dangers of exposure. However, the animal study proved that it did lead to malignant mesothelioma. W.R. Grace did not disclose the results of the study to their workers, the public or regulatory agencies, prioritizing their growing profits over the health of their workers and consumers of their products.
W.R. Grace Asbestos Products
W.R. Grace’s production of asbestos products began early on, with some products dating back to the 1930s. By the time the company acquired Zonolite, asbestos use was prevalent across the United States. The mineral was popular thanks to its accessibility, low cost and various qualities, such as fireproofing and heat-resistance. As asbestos use increased, the company’s success grew, despite the emerging knowledge about asbestos exposure risk.
Some of the most commonly used asbestos products from W.R. Grace include:
- Monokote: Fire-proofing, high-density, spray-on compound designed to protect steel structures from fire damage.
- Vermiculite Insulation: Used to insulate walls, ceilings and other structural units, commonly used in attics.
- Zonolite Super 40: Type of spray insulation used for interior surfacing, commonly used as attic insulation.
- Zonolite Plaster: Dry plaster compound used for reinforcement.
Many of the asbestos-containing products produced by W.R. Grace were focused on providing durability, insulation and fire protection to structures. The company continued to produce new variations of cements, plasters and insulating materials as the construction market accelerated throughout the mid-1900s.
W.R. Grace Products Containing Asbestos
|Product Name||Start Year||End Year|
|W.R. Grace Ari-Zonolite Texture||1961||1964|
|W.R. Grace Econo-White||1956||1970|
|W.R. Grace Gun Coat Spray Surfacer|
|W.R. Grace Hi-Sorb Plaster|
|W.R. Grace High Temp Insulating Cement||1938||1970|
|W.R. Grace Perlcoustic|
|W.R. Grace Perltex Super 40 Perlite||1968||1974|
|W.R. Grace Perltex Super-40 Fog||1968|
|W.R. Grace Perltex Super-40 Polycoarse||1968||1973|
|W.R. Grace Perltex Super-40 SAV||1968||1974|
|W.R. Grace Prep Coat|
|W.R. Grace Spra-Wyt|
|W.R. Grace Vermiculite|
|W.R. Grace Versakote||1973|
|W.R. Grace Z-Tex||1958||1962|
|W.R. Grace Zono-Coustic||1960||1973|
|W.R. Grace Zonolite|
|W.R. Grace Zonolite Acoustical Plaster||1945||1972|
|W.R. Grace Zonolite Cement||1944||1952|
|W.R. Grace Zonolite Mono-Kote||1958||1962|
|W.R. Grace Zonolite Mono-Kote Fireproofing (MK)|
|W.R. Grace Zonolite Spra-Insulation||1959||1973|
|W.R. Grace Zonolite Spra-Tex||1955||1972|
|W.R. Grace Zonolite Super 40||1968||1974|
W.R. Grace and Occupational Exposure
Due to the heavy use of asbestos in W.R. Grace products, many of their employees were exposed to the toxin through occupational exposure and were at great risk of developing asbestos-related illnesses. Those that were in most frequent contact with the mineral were most at risk, which includes those employed at the Libby mines.
Much of the asbestos litigation that W.R. Grace faces today is from those that were affected by the mining of vermiculite in an area heavily contaminated with asbestos. Victims included not just miners, but those that lived, farmed and worked near the mines.
Asbestos exposure at W.R. Grace’s Libby mines, in particular, have caused great concern over the past few decades. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) responded to concerns about Libby asbestos in 2000, and placed the site on the Superfund National Priority List (NPL) to safely cleanup and remove asbestos. In 2009, the EPA declared the first Public Health Emergency to provide federal health care assistance to those affected by asbestos diseases in Libby.
Asbestos Litigation Against W.R. Grace
An estimated hundreds of thousands of individuals have contracted asbestos illnesses as a result of W.R. Grace’s mining and manufacturing, taking into account the assets they acquired throughout the growth of their business. Asbestos victims have developed conditions like pleural mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer and other diseases. Victims and their loved ones have continued to file mesothelioma lawsuits against Grace, seeking compensation for their pain, suffering and losses.
With bankruptcy imminent, W.R. Grace was found to have siphoned off several billion dollars to their subsidiaries before requesting bankruptcy protection. They were investigated by the United States Department of Justice, and required to bring $1 million back to utilize for a trust fund. Under this agreement, Grace was not protected against ongoing claims and legal fees.
In 2001, W.R. Grace filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, along with 61 affiliated companies. All cases were consolidated and Grace was allowed to continue running their business, but as a debtor in possession. They emerged from bankruptcy in 2014.
Throughout bankruptcy proceedings, the company faced liability claims from the EPA. These claims required the company to reach settlements that would help address cleanup efforts and costs required for contaminated sites, including the vermiculite mines. The company came under speculation for not only their involvement with mining and manufacturing asbestos, but also for illegally dumping industrial waste containing large amounts of asbestos at several of their facilities in Libby, Montana and in Massachusetts.
Notable W.R. Grace Settlements
W.R. Grace must continue to be liable for all currently known and unknown sites under their operation. A settlement of over $52 million was reached in May 2008 to cover the administrative costs, claims and associated interest required to address Grace’s liability at 30 different sites across 21 states.
Stemming from the liability established in the 2008 multi-site settlement, W.R. Grace was required to enter various cleanup orders, paying for or performing cleanup projects at sites in New York, Massachusetts, Georgia, Texas and Tennessee. It’s noted that the company will still be liable for site cleanups after emerging from bankruptcy.
W.R. Grace paid the EPA $250 million in a June 2008 settlement to cashout liability for the Libby site, not including the Libby Mine and associated migrating contamination. The EPA deposited this money into an account designated for Libby response and entered into administrative orders with Grace in regards to Libby Mine work.
W.R. Grace paid the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) $54 million in February 2014 to resolve environmental claims with the EPA. The claims were associated with 39 Superfund sites that required attention, and the payment was directed to the Superfund Trust Fund and Superfund special accounts.
Several W.R. Grace company executives have faced criminal charges for the unsafe disposal of waste materials, including asbestos. Within these claims, they attempted to cover up the pollution and didn’t comply with orders to protect and properly clean up the areas in question.
W.R. Grace Asbestos Trust Fund
In accordance with W.R. Grace’s reorganization, an asbestos trust fund was set up under the name WRG Asbestos PI Trust. The goal of this trust was to process, liquidate and payout all personal injury claims from exposure to asbestos that W.R. Grace was legally responsible for. The trust was designed to pay current claims and future claims as they arose.
Payments from the trust depend on the victim’s asbestos diagnosis and are contingent on certain criteria outlined when submitting a claim with the trust fund.
Asbestos trust funds have established payout percentages to ensure all claims can be addressed. W.R. Grace currently has a payout percentage of 35%, which ensures there will be funds available for future claimants. Actual compensation amounts paid will vary based on a number of determining factors, including age of the claimant, the history of their exposure, the diagnosis and firm settlement history.