WASHINGTON - January 31 - Newly uncovered documents from W.R. Grace show that the company exposed workers in at least 14 of its insulation factories around the country to lethal asbestos dust at levels above those in the now notorious Grace-owned mine in Libby, Mont.
The Senate is considering an asbestos bailout bill, the Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution (FAIR) Act, which would rightly require Grace to provide at least $400,000 in medical help for sick or dying miners or neighbors of its infamous Libby mine.
However, recently obtained company documents from 14 Grace insulation factories show that thousands more workers in at least a dozen states were exposed to levels of lethal asbestos dust at or above those in the mine. For those workers, the Senate bill establishes arbitrary length of employment criteria that will shut out hundreds and perhaps thousands of workers from any assistance at all. Libby miners are exempt from these criteria.
"We can't understand why the Specter-Leahy bailout bill would help some workers, but deny medical help to thousands of others who breathed this same fatal dust and are headed toward a slow, painful death," Richard Wiles, Environmental Working Group (EWG) senior vice president, said. "There is not one respectable medical expert or group that supports the lobbyist-inspired criteria that would short-change these former workers."
EWG obtained and posted the documents on its Web site, www.ewg.org, and mapped the insulation factory sites.
At the 14 Grace processing plants, vermiculite ore from Libby was heated in furnaces and Òpopped,Ó filling the air with lethal asbestos dust that ended up in workers' lungs. Workers described horrific conditions at these insulation factories, including climbing inside silos to knock caked asbestos-contaminated ore off silo walls with a hammer or a shovel:
"Did the process create any dust?"
"You had to come up for air every so often. You couldn't stand it down there. You had to come up and get some air and then you go back and shovel some more."
The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bailout bill on May 26, 2005, and it is expected to go to the floor for a vote in February.