On August 25, 2014, the W.R. Grace Asbestos Personal Injury Trust (The Trust) commenced operations and began accepting claims. Asbestos bankruptcy trusts are typically established by companies that manufactured or distributed asbestos products. As a result, these companies are facing claims from people who were exposed to these products and are now suffering from an asbestos-related illness, such as mesothelioma or lung cancer. Companies like W.R. Grace often resort to filing for bankruptcy and reorganizing their debts so that they can pay off their liabilities.
In 1938, W.R. Grace began manufacturing asbestos-containing products intended primarily for use by people in the construction trade, including drywall installers, insulators, and those in the acoustical installation trades. Fireproofing materials, plaster compounds and insulating cements were sold under a variety of W.R. Grace brand names, such as Zonolite, Monokote and Perltex. Many of these products came in a dry form and had to be mixed with water before being sprayed onto walls and ceilings. Those who worked with or around these asbestos-containing products were often exposed to airborne dust that was generated through their various applications.
A majority of these products were manufactured utilizing asbestos-containing vermiculite mined and processed in Libby,Montana, home to W.R. Grace’s deadly mining operation. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found W.R. Grace to be an egregious polluter of the Libby community after it was discovered that its vermiculite mines generated large quantities of airborne asbestos fibers, which contaminated local residences, schools, businesses, and even the community’s water and soil. The EPA currently lists the former W.R. Grace operation on its National Priorities List (NPL), designating it as one of the most hazardous sites in the U.S. In addition, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) conducted a review of Libby death certificates from 1979-1998, finding that when compared to Montana and U.S. mortality, there was a twenty to forty percent increase in nonmalignant and malignant respiratory deaths in Libby.
In 2009, W.R. Grace was ordered to pay the U.S. government more than $54 million to cover cleanup costs related to its mining operation after it was revealed that company executives were aware as early as the 1970s that asbestos exposure could lead to various illnesses. Further, a U.S. Department of Justice investigation revealed that, prior to requesting bankruptcy protection, W. R. Grace transferred several billion dollars to its subsidiaries. W.R. Grace was ordered to bring back $1 billion to be used for The Trust, and it is estimated that The Trust will contain up to $1.8 billion by 2034.
Today, The Trust is operated by trust fund officers who review claims and determine proper settlement amounts. To qualify for payment, a claimant must provide credible exposure and medical evidence. Those who worked with or around any of W.R. Grace’s asbestos-containing products and are suffering or suffered from an asbestos-related illness, may be eligible for compensation from The Trust.