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Asbestos victims get $25 million settlement

Most defendants in cases involving asbestos exposure are private corporations that mined or used asbestos in the many products that contained the hazardous mineral. In any case, the state of Montana agreed to pay $25 million to settle a product liability case brought by more than 100 people who lived in the tiny town of Libby.

Libby has the unfortunate distinction of being located next to one of the largest vermiculite mines in the world. While vermiculite itself is not harmful to humans, the vermiculite in the Libby mine was contaminated with large amounts of asbestos fibers. The mining operation released large quantities of asbestos fibers into the atmosphere. The plaintiffs in the suit that was recently settled alleged that the state knew of the health hazard posed by the vermiculite mine but intentionally suppressed and concealed the evidence. Five years ago, the state paid $43 million to 1,000 plaintiffs in another product liability lawsuit that was based on the identical allegations of a state cover-up.

According to reporters for Lee Newspapers, several mine safety reports showed that workers in the open pit mine were inhaling enormous amounts of asbestos fibers. The reports quoted state inspectors, who repeatedly called for protective masks for miners, better ventilation and dust suppression systems and other means for limiting contamination from the mine. Almost all of the reports were marked "Confidential - Do not release." The safety recommendations were ignored, and the reports were sent only to mine owners and operators.

Miners were not the only victims. Libby's children played on huge piles of vermiculite and wrote in the white dust that covered the town's automobiles. When the media began to publish reports of unexplained illnesses and deaths among Libby residents, the Environmental Protection Agency began a massive clean-up. The level of airborne asbestos has been reported to be 100,000 times lower than during the time the mine was operating. Nevertheless, residents of Libby have suffered and died from asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma and asbestosis.

Source: Billings Gazette, "Montana asbestos victims to get $25M from state," Andrew Schneider, Jan. 20, 2017

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