Asbestos Mortality on the rise in the Lone Star State
A Slow Death in Texas: W.R. Grace Indictment
As Texas considers sweeping limits on a citizen's right to sue asbestos companies, federal prosecutors in Montana are taking the opposite approach, seeking and obtaining criminal indictments against notorious asbestos manufacturer W.R. Grace.
On February 7, 2005, a federal grand jury for the first time ever handed down a multi-count criminal indictment against officials at an asbestos company, in this case W.R. Grace, charging them with withholding numerous studies spelling out the dangers that asbestos posed to its customers, employees and Libby residents. The indictment charges W.R. Grace and seven of its executives with criminal conspiracy, fraud and knowing endangerment in connection with its operation of an asbestos-contaminated mine in Libby, Montana. According to the indictment, W.R. Grace's operation of the mine has endangered the health of the 8,000 Libby residents and cost taxpayers over $55 million in environmental clean-up costs.
The indictment specifically alleges that the company was aware of several studies documenting the dangers of asbestos exposure, but concealed this knowledge from EPA officials. These studies include a 1976 study which revealed a high incidence of asbestos-related lung problems in Libby employees, an animal study finding cancer in hamsters exposed to the asbestos fibers present at the mine, a 1981 health study of employees showing a high rate of asbestos-related lung problems, a 1982 mortality study showing a high incidence of respiratory cancers in Libby employees, and several specific case studies of employees with lung diseases.
The impact of W.R. Grace's alleged criminal behavior extends well into Texas. At least 7,208 shipments amounting to more than 675,000 tons of vermiculite, were sent from the Grace mine in Libby, Montana to 24 locations in Texas between 1963 and 1992. More than 327,000 tons were shipped to Dallas, more than 193,000 tons to Houston, and 103,000 tons to San Antonio. The vermiculite shipped was contaminated with the most deadly form of asbestos, tremolite, which is a long, thin, spear-shaped mineral fiber that the body is completely unable to dissolve. Once it enters the lungs it penetrates deeper and deeper, often breaching the chest lining, where it can lead to the fatal asbestos cancer, mesothelioma.
"The impact of W.R. Grace's alleged criminal behavior extends well into Texas... 675,000 tons of vermiculite were sent from the Grace mine in Libby, Montana..."
Federal health and environmental officials have evaluated the risks to vermiculite plant workers and people who live near 11 of the largest 28 facilities nationwide that processed Libby vermiculite into insulation and other products. Their conclusion in every case was that workers at the plants, members of their families, and those living nearby had "most likely" been exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos and should be examined by doctors for asbestos diseases. No such evaluations have been conducted in Texas, but it is unlikely that the conclusions there will be any different when they are.
Asbestos Shipments to Texas from the W.R. Grace Mine
At least 7,208 shipments of vermiculite went from Libby, MT to 24 locations in Texas
|City||Number of Shipments||Tons Shipped*|
• 2651 Manila Road
Houston, TX (5 sites)
• C/O Maragua lines
• S.W. Greer Spur (3 separate companies invoiced)
• unknown address
San Antonio, TX
• 354 Blue Star Street
• Highway 82 West
Fort Worth, TX (3 sites)
• 1628 Rogers Road
• 2818 North Nicholas Street
• 909 No. Main Street
• County Line & Rock Island Roads
Acme, TX (2 sites)
• address in Acme, TX
• address in Quanah,TX
Galena Park, TX
• 1201 Mayo Shell Road
• Count Bowie Ind. Park
• 3300 Barbours, Cut Boulevard
Source: EWG Action Fund analysis of shipment invoices from Libby, MT. * Numerous shipment invoices from Libby that were tallied by U.S. EPA did not include a specific street address for the destination, the tons shipped, or dates of shipment; some invoices lacked all this information, based on the EPA database in which the tabulations are recorded. As a result, the 'tons shipped' data presented here likely underestimate the actual amount of asbestos shipped to specific destinations, states, or for the United States as a whole.
Lying to workers and withholding critical health information from customers, communities, and federal health officials was not limited to W.R. Grace, it was standard asbestos industry practice. Indeed, it took similar behavior at Exxon, Dow (Union Carbide), DuPont, Bendix (now Honeywell), The Travelers, Metropolitan Life, Dresser Industries (now Halliburton), National Gypsum, Owens-Corning, General Electric, Ford, and General Motors, just to name a few, to produce the ten thousand Americans currently dying each year of asbestos diseases. The list of companies that knowingly exposed their workers to deadly amounts of asbestos is a roll call of major American corporations.
No company, not a single one, acted responsibly and informed workers of the deadly hazards of asbestos at any time. Not when the first information became available beginning in the 1930's, tying asbestos to fatal and debilitating lung disease. Not in the 1940's and 50's when asbestos exposure was unambiguously linked with lung cancer, and the signature asbestos cancer of the chest lining, mesothelioma. And not in the 60's, 70's, or 80's when thousands of workers a year began to die of asbestos-caused diseases.
This deliberate concealment of critical information led to the debacle we face today, where 10,000 people a year die from asbestos disease, and thousands more are seriously disabled. This pattern of outrageous corporate misconduct is at the core of whatever success people injured by asbestos have had in the courtroom to date.