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A U.S. Bankruptcy Judge, Judith K. Fitzgerald, has approved an agreement for W.R. Grace & Co. to reimburse the federal government $250 million, within thirty days, for the investigation and cleanup of asbestos contamination in a Montana town. Exposure to asbestos in the town is believed to have caused lung-scarring asbestosis and mesothelioma, a cancer, directly linked to asbestos exposure, which attacks the lungs. The contamination originated from vermiculite mine and processing facilities that were a few miles from the northwestern Montana town. These facilities were owned and run by W.R. Grace & Co. from 1963 until the site closed in 1990. The Columbia , Md.- based chemical manufacturer consented to the amount to settle a claim brought by the government to recover money for the past and future cleanup of affected schools, businesses and houses in the town. Taxpayers had been footing the bill for the EPA’s investigative work and cleanup, totaling $168 million, which will most likely lead to an additional $175 million in costs.

The contamination has been blamed for causing many people to fall ill; some have even died. The US Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) say the settlement will be the largest ever reimbursement program through the government’s Superfund program. A Justice Department attorney said the settlement is quite a compromise for the federal government, though the timely payment will allow cleanup to proceed without any budgetary concerns. The EPA has said cleanup will continue for three to five years.

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