Former Workers at Arizona Vermiculite Plants Exposed to Asbestos

W.R. Grace Vermiculite Facility in Glendale Exposed Workers and Families to Asbestos

ATLANTA, GA - October 6, 2006 - Former employees at vermiculite processing plants in Phoenix and Glendale, Arizona, were exposed to asbestos and have a high risk of developing asbestosis, pleural mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases, according to the government (ATSDR News Release, September 28, 2006). The vermiculite came from a mine, located in Libby, Montana, that was heavily contaminated with asbestos.

W.R. Grace owned the Libby mine as well as the Phoenix plant, which received 204,000 tons of asbestos-contaminated vermiculite from 1964 through 1991. The plant still processes vermiculite today.

The Glendale facility, which was owned by Ari-Zonolite and W.R. Grace, received asbestos-contaminated vermiculite from 1951 until 1964. Although vermiculite operations ended in 1964, residual asbestos fibers remained in the air, especially in the former furnace room. The current building owners cleaned up the furnace area last year, but gave no details about whether they used proper methods or further scattered any asbestos dust.

How Asbestos Vermiculite Exposure Occurs

Vermiculite is an ore that can be molded to form a lightweight, fire-resistant material used in soil conditioners, fireproofing and insulation. During processing, vermiculite is heated to high temperatures until it expands and releases water. If the vermiculite is contaminated, it also releases large amounts of asbestos into the air.

An internal W.R. Grace memo estimates that 28% of workers with over 10 years service who were exposed to the ore concentrate from Libby developed asbestosis, according to public health consultations released by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). "Without question, former W.R. Grace workers were exposed to airborne levels of asbestos that posed a public health hazard," the agency said.

Besides inhaling asbestos from the air, workers at the Glendale and Phoenix plants may have been exposed to asbestos from these activities:

  • Transferring vermiculite materials from rail cars to storage areas
  • Loading material onto conveyor systems
  • Bagging processed material
  • Removing waste rock

Asbestos Diseases Can Take Decades to Develop

Asbestos diseases take decades to develop, so we may not yet know the full extent of the injuries suffered by the Arizona vermiculite workers and their families. The former employees are definitely at risk for asbestos diseases, according to the ATSDR. However, household members may also be at risk if they lived with the workers during the time periods when vermiculite was processed. This is because the workers may have brought home asbestos dust on their clothing or shoes.

The ATSDR recommends a visit to the doctor for former Arizona vermiculite employees and the family members who lived with them. The doctor should be someone who is familiar with asbestos diseases and can continue to monitor their health.

Vermiculite Asbestos Exposure Is a Nationwide Problem

Arizona is not the only state that received asbestos-laden vermiculite. Vermiculite from the contaminated mine was shipped to over 244 sites nationwide. By one estimate, asbestos contaminated vermiculite insulation, known as Zonolite®, was used in 35 million homes. Vermiculite was also very popular in gardening products.

ATSDR has completed 24 health consultations concerning the use of Libby vermiculite, including two about the Arizona plants. The reports about the Glendale and Phoenix plants are on the ATSDR web site.

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Since 1984, Brayton Purcell has been fighting for the rights of asbestos victims. Please feel free to contact our mesothelioma attorneys or call us at 1-800-361-0315 if you have developed an asbestos-related disease such as lung cancer, mesothelioma, asbestosis or colon cancer. We will review your case free of charge, answer your questions and advise you or your legal rights.