W.R. Grace

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Throughout the 1900s, W.R. Grace produced many asbestos products. These included Zonolite insulation made of contaminated vermiculite mined in Libby, Montana. As a result, W.R. Grace is responsible for exposing thousands to asbestos. Lawsuits against W.R. Grace led to bankruptcy and an asbestos trust fund.

01. History of Asbestos Use

W.R. Grace History of Asbestos Use

W.R. Grace made asbestos products for several decades during the 20th century. The company also mined asbestos-contaminated vermiculite. Over time, it amassed billions of dollars in asbestos liabilities. In 2001, it began bankruptcy proceedings. Today, a trust handles claims against the company.

Quick Facts
  • Years in Operation: 1854 – Present
  • Location: Columbia, Maryland
  • Production: Insulation, fireproofing compounds
  • Asbestos Trust: Yes

William Russell Grace founded the company in Peru in 1854. In 1865, the company moved its headquarters to New York City.

For many decades, W.R. Grace operated as a transportation and agricultural company. Beginning in the middle of the 20th century, it started diversifying its business by purchasing several companies.

In 1963, W.R. Grace acquired Zonolite Company. From 1963 to 1990, the company ran a mine and processing mill in Libby, Montana, acquired from this purchase. It mined vermiculite to use in its Zonolite insulation and Mono-Kote fireproofing material. In addition to making its own vermiculite products, W.R. Grace sold the ore to other companies.

About 26% of the vermiculite in the mine contained asbestos. The vermiculite from the Libby Mine made up about 80% of the global supply during W.R. Grace’s ownership.

Evidence shows that W.R. Grace observed negative health effects in its miners soon after the acquisition. The company knew as early as 1963 that the vermiculite contained asbestos. In 1977, the company drafted a press release saying it would discontinue Zonolite insulation because of health hazards. W.R. Grace did not release the statement and continued to sell Zonolite insulation until 1984.

As a result of its production and mining operations, W.R. Grace faced massive asbestos liabilities. In 2001, it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. It emerged from bankruptcy with a trust that now handles asbestos claims against the company.

W.R. Grace continues to operate today as a global chemical supplier. It employs more than 4,500 people and operates in over 30 countries. In 2022, the company reported over $2 billion in net revenue.

02. Asbestos Products

W.R. Grace Asbestos Products

W.R. Grace made a number of products using asbestos-contaminated vermiculite, like insulation and cement. It also sold vermiculite ore to other companies. Some of the most common vermiculite products from W.R. Grace include:

  • Mono-Kote: Fire-proofing, high-density, spray-on compound designed to protect steel structures from fire damage
  • Perltex: Paints and spray-on surfacer materials
  • Zonolite compounds: Dry plaster compounds used for reinforcement and spray insulations used for interior surfacing
  • Zonolite insulation: Loose-fill insulation used in attics, walls, ceilings and other structural units

All of these products may have been contaminated with asbestos.

W.R. Grace Products Containing Asbestos

List of Products Containing Asbestos
Product Name Start Year End Year
W.R. Grace Perltex Super-40 Fog 1966 1973
W.R. Grace Perltex Super-40 Perlite 1966 1973
W.R. Grace Perltex Super-40 Polycoarse 1966 1973
W.R. Grace Perltex Super-40 SAV 1966 1973
W.R. Grace Versakote 1966 1973
W.R. Grace Zonolite Acoustical Plaster 1945 1972
W.R. Grace Zonolite Econo-White 65 & 70 1956 1968
W.R. Grace Zonolite Finish Coat (Decorators White) 1963 1973
W.R. Grace Zonolite High Temp Insulating Cement 1945 1970
W.R. Grace Zonolite Mono-Kote (MK-3) 1959 1962
W.R. Grace Zonolite Spra-Insulation (MK-2) 1960 1973
W.R. Grace Zonolite Spra-Tex 1955 1972
W.R. Grace Zonolite Z-Tex 2 1964 1973
W.R. Grace Zonolite Zono-Coustic 1959 1973
03. Occupational Exposure

W.R. Grace and Occupational Exposure

Because W.R. Grace products contained asbestos, many of its employees were exposed to the toxic mineral through occupational exposure and were at risk of developing asbestos-related illnesses. Employees most frequently in contact with the mineral had the highest risk, including Libby Mine employees.

Miners and other W.R. Grace employees who handled vermiculite may have been exposed to asbestos. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that may be found near vermiculite and other ores and minerals. The process of mining, transporting and using vermiculite in manufacturing may also have resulted in asbestos exposure.

In addition to W.R. Grace employees, tradespeople and consumers who handled their products or raw ore also risked asbestos exposure. Any level of exposure is dangerous and can lead to asbestos diseases like lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Miners’ loved ones and family members may have also been at risk of secondary asbestos exposure. Asbestos fibers stuck to hair and clothing may have been brought home by workers. Other household members may have inhaled or ingested them.

The presence of the mines and the continuous disturbance of asbestos fibers also put Libby community members at risk. More than 400 residents of the town died from exposure to asbestos.

Occupations Impacted by W.R. Grace’s Asbestos Use

04. Asbestos Litigation

Asbestos Litigation Against W.R. Grace

An estimated hundreds of thousands of individuals have filed personal injury claims against W.R. Grace. Asbestos victims have developed conditions like pleural mesothelioma, lung cancer and other diseases. Victims and their loved ones can file claims with W.R. Grace’s asbestos trust fund to seek compensation.

W.R. Grace faced hundreds of thousands of asbestos lawsuits as a result of its products and mining activities. At the time it filed for bankruptcy in 2001, the company had more than 129,000 lawsuits pending against it.

Before filing for bankruptcy, W.R. Grace had paid almost $700 million to victims in 207 asbestos settlements. The company was also found liable for more than $60 million in a combined nine personal injury and wrongful death lawsuit verdicts.

W.R. Grace has also faced legal trouble from government bodies, including:

  • Cleanup projects: A multi-state settlement stemming from a federal lawsuit required W.R. Grace to pay $34 million for cleanup costs at 32 Superfund sites across the country. The settlement also required the company to continue cleanup at its own sites.
  • Criminal prosecution: Several W.R. Grace company executives have faced criminal charges for the unsafe disposal of waste materials, including asbestos.
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund settlement: W.R. Grace paid the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) $54 million to resolve environmental claims with the EPA. The claims were associated with 39 Superfund sites that required attention. In a separate settlement, the company paid the EPA $250 million to resolve most of the liabilities associated with the Libby Superfund site.

As part of its bankruptcy agreement, W.R. Grace created an asbestos trust fund. In general, asbestos victims cannot directly sue the company anymore. Instead, they must file claims against the trust.

05. Asbestos Trust Fund

W.R. Grace Asbestos Trust Fund

In 2001, W.R. Grace filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. At the time, the company was facing at least 129,000 asbestos lawsuits. In 2014, the company emerged from bankruptcy and set up trust funds for asbestos victims.

The current payment percentage for successful claims is 31.7%.

As part of W.R. Grace’s reorganization, an asbestos trust fund was set up under the name WRG Asbestos PI Trust. The trust is designed to pay all current claims and future asbestos claims against the company.

Asbestos trust funds have established payout percentages to ensure all claims can be addressed. W.R. Grace currently has a payout percentage of 31.7%. Actual compensation amounts paid will vary based on a number of determining factors, including the age of the claimant, the history of their exposure, the claimant’s diagnosis and the trust’s payment history.

If you believe you or a loved one may be entitled to compensation, mesothelioma lawyers are available to file claims on your behalf.