Official: Grace misled EPA

FRIDAY, FEB. 27, 2009

Agency coordinator says company obstructed cleanup

MISSOULA – An Environmental Protection Agency official says employees of W.R. Grace & Co. misled the government and obstructed efforts to clean up a mine site in Montana.

Paul Peronard testified Thursday in the federal environmental crimes trial of Grace and five former company officials.

The Missoulian newspaper reported the testimony on its Web site.

Peronard was the EPA’s on-scene coordinator in Libby, where Grace operated a vermiculite mine.

He said Grace officials provided false and misleading statements during the initial phase of cleanup, when the EPA was trying to gauge the scope of asbestos contamination in Libby.

Peronard said he helped arrange sale of the mine site back to Grace, so that the EPA could use it as a repository for asbestos-contaminated mine waste. He said that, one day after the sale was completed, Grace denied the EPA access to the site.

“It just threw a wrench in all the operations we had planned,” Peronard said.

Peronard testified that he asked former mine manager Alan Stringer about the vermiculite concentrate at the various mine sites, and was told the material contained less than 1 percent asbestos and was not hazardous.

Company documents would later reveal that Grace’s own product testing showed even low levels of asbestos caused dangerous releases of airborne fibers.

Grace told the EPA that it never provided asbestos-contaminated vermiculite to the general public; but Peronard said he would later learn that Grace provided vermiculite for the junior high school running track and the Plummer Elementary School skating rink in Libby.

Community residents also have said that Grace provided vermiculite to the general public for a variety of uses, such as gardening, the Missoulian reported.

Peronard testified Thursday that, by misleading the EPA about the scope of the contamination, the company delayed emergency response to homes and the general community, putting crews “in a big circle.”

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