The incidence of malignant mesothelioma among America’s working people represents one of the most infamous examples of corporate greed in U.S. history. It has been well established that companies were aware of the dangers posed by asbestos, and that it caused the fatal illness, but owners and management kept the information secret in order to continue using it and making big profits. One of the most notorious cases involved W.R. Grace & Co., which operated a vermiculite mine that was contaminated with asbestos, and which has caused hundreds of deaths and thousands of illnesses. The site of the now-closed mine continues to be heavily contaminated and has been the object of extensive EPA cleanups over the last few decades, and now it is cause for concern again as the area is in danger of sending plumes of toxic smoke into the air as a result of Montana’s West Fork Fire.
The chief concern about the fire, which was first identified back in August and which since has consumed over 13,000 miles, is that it is drawing close to the site of the mine, where area trees are heavily contaminated with asbestos, which causes mesothelioma. Local officials worry that if the trees burn, the smoke would spread to nearby populations, who could breathe it in and further expose them to the carcinogenic material. This has long been a worry in the area according to Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry, who said, “Over the years we’ve had discussions with the Forest Service about how much of the asbestos from that site would be carried by the smoke.”
To address those concerns, Curry said that local Public Health Officer Hillary Hanson had contacted the state Department of Environmental Quality, as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “She was assured by the EPA experts their studies have shown that should the fire burn over that heavily asbestos-laden forest, 95 percent of the asbestos would be contained in the ash,” which would fall to the ground. The remaining 5 percent would be carried by smoke, but would “precipitate out fairly rapidly.”
With asbestos representing the only known cause of mesothelioma, the people of Montana have good reason to be concerned, particularly with W. R. Grace & Co. representing one of the nation’s worst asbestos offenders. If you or someone you love has been impacted by mesothelioma and you need information about your rights, contact us today at 1-800-966-2244.