Libby, Montana - A Town Rife With Asbestos Disease

Libby, Montana is one of the more infamous sites of asbestos disease resulting from the W.R Grace & Co.'s vermiculite mine that operated for decades, polluting the town with extremely hazardous asbestos dust particles and putting tens of thousands of people at risk of developing malignant mesothelioma.

Two asbestos diseased Libby residents have been forced to live out their retirement in the Kirkland home of their daughter where every day is nothing more than a struggle to survive. Unable to physically console one another for fear of spreading infection, the couple is part of a growing number of Libby residents who may find themselves cut off by W.R. Grace & Co.'s medical plan.

The husband worked in the vermiculite mine in the 1950s before leaving to pursue a different line of work. The family eventually returned to their home in Libby by 1966, where they lived until 2005. While the husband was faced with asbestos exposure on a daily basis via mining operations, his wife believes her only source of contact came from washing his clothes and living in the overwhelming shroud of asbestos dust cast over the town from the W.R. Grace & Co. mining operation.

Fortunately for this asbestos-diseased couple, they maintain a private insurance plan; however, between Medicare deductibles and prescription drug costs, they are still paying in excess of $1,000 per month in expenses. Originally hoping to spend their retirement years together enjoying the twilight of their lives, the couple is relegated to a room in their daughter's home where they struggle for each and every breath. Their only escape from the confines of the house is the frequent doctor / hospital visit that consumes increasing amounts of their time and energy.

In January of 2000, W.R. Grace & Co. accepted responsibility for the overabundant spread of asbestos disease contaminating many of the town's 12,000 residents by agreeing to pay medical expenses incurred by affected Libby residents.

Until very recently, eligibility for the W.R. Grace & Co. plan required nothing more than a doctor's recommendation; however, having filed for Chapter 11 in 2005, W.R. Grace & Co. are now looking to put a squeeze on what it has always viewed as a 'goodwill gesture' towards the Libby community.

Benefits of the W.R. Grace & Co. plan include coverage of medical costs, prescription drug costs and in-home / hospital care. These costs can total more than several hundred thousand dollars and are expected to cost W.R. Grace & Co. in excess of $100 million.

Asbestos litigation has led to more than 70 companies with significant asbestos liabilities declaring bankruptcy since 1970. Concerns over the ability of liable companies to compensate future claimants have paved the way to increased discussion of asbestos litigation reforms. Although Congress is actively involved in production of legislation geared towards providing compensation trust funds, insurance companies, defendant corporations and plaintiff attorneys have thus far been unable to reach an agreement over eligibility standards for compensation (much like the problems now facing Libby residents and W.R. Grace & Co.

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