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by Pia K. Hansen

Grace bankrupt?

Libby, Mont. -- W.R. Grace and Company, which used to mine asbestos-tainted vermiculite on Zonolite Mountain here, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in a Delaware court on Monday. Asbestosis -- a deadly disease which leads to permanent scarring of lung tissue caused by asbestos fibers -- are linked to Grace's mining operation in Libby.

"The bankruptcy comes as no surprise," says Gayla Benefield, a Libby resident and long-time activist for the asbestosis sufferers in the area. "It angers me that [Grace] is using the asbestos courts and the companies that already filed for Chapter 11 as an excuse. This was never an asbestos mine -- they are getting away with murder." Grace maintains that since five other major companies involved in asbestos litigation have filed for Chapter 11 protection, it's being targeted by law suits at an even higher rate.

Grace has more than 325,000 asbestos related personal injury claims filed against it.

A preliminary health study found that 30 percent of 1,078 Libby residents initially examined showed signs of lung damage.

Chapter 11 bankruptcy allows Grace to continue business as usual, while being protected from its creditors and claimants. Grace maintains that it's just trying to sort through the cases and find a way of dealing with them.

"I don't buy that," says Benefield, and she also blames state agencies for not confronting Grace soon enough.

What's the community's response going to be?

"I don't know. Life goes on, I mean, we don't have a choice. I think a lot of people are just going to give up now -- they know they wont live long enough to collect any settlement money."

Walk of animals

SPOKANE -- Though Earth Day is not until April 22, it's time to get started on a figure for the Procession of the Species Celebration that day, in Riverfront Park.

"Every Thursday we have open studio time where people can come down and work on their projects," says Amanda Butcher, who coordinates the procession, "and we'll be having a paper mache workshop on April 14."

People are welcome to bring special supplies to donate, but materials such as paint brushes, glue, paper and sequins are provided.

"And we'll be having two drumming workshops," says Butcher. There are three rules for participation in the procession: no written words, no live animals and no motorized vehicles.

"The procession is an environmental and artistic celebration of the natural world," says Butcher. "It's really about the intersection of artists and environmentalists, and even for people who don't think they have an artistic bone in them -- they create amazing things."

The studio is located at 1007 N. Columbus St. (just off Hamilton and Cataldo). Visit or call 835-4011.

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