W.R. Grace's Zonolite: Canadians short-changed

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Asbestos-laden vermiculite mined in Libby, Mont., made it into the walls and attics of millions of homes around the United States in the form of insulation. It also insulates thousands more homes in Canada—perhaps as many as 400,000, according to estimates.

But the compensation for damages Canadians are eligible to receive from W.R. Grace & Co., which sold Zonolite Attic Insulation for almost 30 years, is far less than it is in the U.S. And as the deadline for Canadians to file claims came and went recently, it appears relatively few will get anything at all.

A representative of W.R. Grace tells the Independent that 13,094 Canadians filed property damage claims against the company by the August 31 deadline as part of the company’s bankruptcy reorganization.

The reorganization plan isn’t set in stone, but a proposal indicates that eligible Canadians homeowners—those who through their claim prove the presence of W.R. Grace’s Zonolite Attic Insulation plus costs incurred to contain it—will receive only $300. Those who remove it completely will get no more than $600. The company would pay $6.5 million (Canadian) to settle all present and future Canadian claims.

In the U.S., by comparison, claimants can expect to receive no more than $4,125. The cost of removal can easily exceed $10,000.

But even more unsettling, as the Seattle P-I reported last week, is that half of the money would be paid to the Canadian lawyers who put the deal together.

Spokane-based attorney Scott Darrel, who helped negotiate the $140 million class-action settlement with W.R. Grace of Zonolite Attic Insulation in the U.S., told the P-I that he is "gravely concerned about my Canadian Zonolite clients."

Asked about the large lawyers fees, Scott would say only: "The first obligation must always be to fairly compensate the client and this (settlement) does not appear to offer any meaningful relief."

Said Raven Thundersky, whose parents and three sisters died from cancer and asbestosis from exposure to Zonolite in the family's government-built home on a remote First Nations reservation at Poplar River, Manitoba:

"The lawyers are making a fortune, and those with a real need to remove this poison from their homes get nothing. How can something so outrageous be allowed to happen?"

Her attorney had this to say:

"The settlement is a bit absurd and disturbing and a significant disappointment," said Thundersky's lawyer, Keith Ferbers. "It's really not set in stone yet, but clearly the case didn't go the way it should have."

According to Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reports, more than 1.5 billion pounds of raw asbestos-contaminated vermiculite ore was shipped to processing plants across Canada. Of the Zonolite produced, about one tenth was used in Canada. The Canadian government even listed Zonolite among the eligible materials for its Canadian Home Insulation Program (CHIP), a program that offered grants to homeowners from 1977 to the mid-1980s.

For a more in-depth look at the ubiquity of Libby asbestos in Canada, check out Jennifer Wells' Aug. 23 feature in the Toronto Star.

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