W.R. Grace & Co. Profitable Despite Asbestos Liability

The Baltimore Sun recently reported that W.R. Grace & Co., a company associated with one of the largest asbestos contaminations in U.S. history, is healthy and profitable despite having filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001. In January, the company reported profits of $94.1 million for 2012, which were lower than the company’s 2011 profits but better than expected given an included $365 million non-cash charge for asbestos liabilities. In 2008, W.R. Grace established a bankruptcy trust to settle current and future asbestos-related personal injury claims. To date, hundreds of people have died and thousands were harmed due to asbestos released from a Montana vermiculite mine owned and operated by W.R. Grace from 1963 until 1990. During the mine’s peak production years in the 1970s, W. R. Grace employed 200 people there and produced almost two million tons of vermiculite annually. The manufacturing process created large quantities of airborne asbestos fibers, which contaminated the mining facility and homes and buildings in the nearest town, Libby. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the W.R. Grace mine was the source of over 70 percent of all vermiculite sold in the U.S. from 1919 to 1990. Because the mine contained substantial deposits of asbestos, its vermiculite was contaminated with asbestos. Vermiculite from the mine was used in the majority of vermiculite insulation in the U.S. and was usually sold under the brand name Zonolite®. The EPA warns homeowners that any vermiculite insulation installed prior to 1990 should be considered potentially hazardous. If asbestos-containing insulation is damaged or disturbed, carcinogenic asbestos fibers could become airborne. W.R. Grace finished 2012 with more than $1.3 billion in cash and cash equivalents. The company expects that its adjusted earnings before interest and taxes for 2013 will rise 8 to 12 percent over last year. References:
  • Hopkins, Jamie Smith (February 6, 2013). "Grace's asbestos charge pushes profits down in 2012. But company's performance is better than expected; stock price rises." Retrieved on February 10, 2013, from The Baltimore Sun.
  • Associated Press (Sept. 17, 2011). “Montana: Settlement Approved for Asbestos Victims.” Retrieved February 25, 2013, from The New York Times.
  • Johnson, Kirk (February 18, 2009). “Ex-Grace Officials on Trial in Asbestos Poisoning.” Retrieved February 25, 2013, from The New York Times.
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