Pollution pickle sours landowner

 

NORTH DAKOTA

Like tremolite asbestos fibers, the Montana-based W.R. Grace & Co. vermiculite contamination problem gets stickier with time. Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency discovered asbestos-laden soil around a storage warehouse owned by the Minot Park District in Minot, N.D. While the agency is currently testing the extent of the contamination, EPA coordinator Joyce Ackerman has already pegged the site for cleanup.

"You can see vermiculite in some places," she says. "It's not safe for people to be around."

But the Park District says it shouldn't be left with the cleanup bill. The building and land were previously owned by Robinson Insulation Co., which manufactured insulation products using vermiculite ore from the W.R. Grace & Co., based in Libby, Mont. - the company that is facing numerous charges for exposing its workers to tremolite asbestos (HCN, 3/13/00: Libby's dark secret). Park director Leo Brunner says the district didn't know the property was contaminated when it was purchased in 1993, and therefore isn't liable. "The people responsible are the people who profited," he says.

But with Robinson Insulation long dissolved and W.R. Grace bankrupt, the district could bear the financial burden, Brunner told the Associated Press. Regardless of who gets stuck with the tab, says Ackerman, cleanup is slated to begin next spring.

Copyright © 2001 HCN and Rachel Jackson