HELENA — Governor Greg Gianforte announced Tuesday a proposed settlement agreement in W.R. Grace & Co.’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy case for the Libby Asbestos Superfund Site in Lincoln County.
The proposed settlement, filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware, would require W.R. Grace to pay $18.5 million to resolve the remainder of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s claims. The proposed settlement is the result of a three-year mediation between the State through DEQ and the Natural Resource Damage Program (NRDP) and W.R. Grace.
NRDP would receive the $18.5 million plus interest over ten years, with the first $5 million due within six months. The state says funds would be used to restore, replace, or rehabilitate injured natural resources in the Lincoln County area, and related costs.
“After years of negotiation following Grace’s historic damage, Libby and communities in Lincoln County can more fully recover,” Governor Gianforte said. “I look forward to the positive impact this settlement can bring to the people of Libby and Lincoln County.”
W.R. Grace’s history in Libby dates back to 1963, when the company bought an asbestos-contaminated vermiculite mine located within 10 miles of the city. According to studies by the EPA, the mine released around 5,000 pounds of asbestos every day until it closed in 1990. The site was added to the EPA’s superfund list in 2002 due to asbestos contamination that resulted from the mining operation.
A number of diseases have been linked to asbestos exposure such as bronchogenic carcinoma and mesothelioma. Mine workers weren’t the only ones affected in Libby, with many area residents who never worked in the mine being diagnosed with asbestos exposure-related illnesses.
DEQ previously received a $5.1 million settlement in a 2008 bankruptcy settlement with W.R. Grace. The new proposed settlement is in addition to the 2008 settlement.
The proposed settlement would resolve the natural resource damage liability of W.R. Grace. and other affiliated companies to the State of Montana for the Libby Asbestos Superfund Site. The settlement would also resolve their liabilities to the Department of Environmental Quality regarding hazardous or harmful substances, although with certain limited exceptions.
This settlement would not affect W. R. Grace’s requirements to continue to perform superfund work, subject to EPA oversight with DEQ consultation. Under the settlement, W.R. Grace would additionally provide the State with financial assurance for the operation and maintenance of the Kootenai Development Impoundment Dam for the next 100 years.
According to data released by the Montana Board of Investments, the state had around $2 million invested in W.R. Grace and Co. as of last June. That investment makes up a small portion of the $13 billion total holdings by the State of Montana.
The State of Montana is accepting comments on the proposed settlement until February 13, 2023.