MARCH 2001

MARCH-APRIL 2001 FULL ISSUE

SCARRED PARADISE: A MONTANA TRAGEDY

By JANE FRITZ

Gina Benefield still remembers the nightmares she had of endless lines of lifeless, gray-faced men with fear in their eyes. It was 1982 and she was caring for her sick mother Margaret Vatland who for years had been in and out of the hospital with what doctors called pneumonia. The dreams eventually led Benefield to doubt their diagnosis and question them. “Is it the dust that killed Dad?”

In November 1999 a Seattle newspaper alleged that nearly 200 people had died and several hundred more were afflicted with asbestos-related diseases in the small mountain town of Libby, Montana (population 2,700 although the greater area holds around 13,000). The source of the problems in a defunct vermiculite mine owned by W.R. Grace & Co.

It is now known that millions of pounds of raw ore and expanded vermiculite that were shipped to hundreds of places around the country were contaminated with toxic tremolite asbestos.

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Paul Koberstein