Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Bill Childs is on vacation this week. Filling in for him is author Andrea Peacock, telling the story of the W.R. Grace corporation’s tragic legacy in the small town of Libby, Montana. This is part three of seven.
When I started writing about Libby, I believed that if I could understand what happened in Libby, Montana, I’d have some insight into the dark side of human nature.
Because the W.R. Grace corporation bought that vermiculite mine in 1963 with full knowledge that it was contaminated with asbestos; they conducted annual x-ray and lung function tests, maintaining a database of the extent of disease in its workforce (declining, however, to share that information with the miners); they knew the damage that would be wrought by asbestos not just in their employees, but also in their employees’ families; and they shipped their product to more than 200 processing plants across the country with reckless disregard for the health of those workers and the people in those communities (not to mention the consumers who would for decades live in homes insulated with the deadly ore).
But Grace’s actions in Libby went beyond activities that made them money: one doesn’t have to look hard to find malice. Managers donated mine tailings to pave the local high school and middle school running tracks; they allowed vermiculite to be used on the grade school skating rink; they left huge piles of the stuff lying next to the Little League baseball fields where kids who were too young to play ball would swing on a rope and leap off into them. They turned a blind eye when locals filled up their pickups with vermiculite that wasn’t up to grade, and took it home to put between their walls for insulation, and in their yards as soil conditioner.
It was almost as though managers for the W.R. Grace corporation wanted to kill as many people as they could, condemning even the town’s children to a slow and painful death.
These are bold claims, and I invite you to examine them thoroughly. What follows is a report based on interviews, depositions and court documents all available to the public: grace.doc . For your convenience, I am also including my source notes: bibliography_blog.doc . It’s gets a little technical here and there, and for that I apologize. I am also sorry to say that in the end, I found no insight, no understanding, only this map to the darkness that lurks in the soul of humanity.