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Sign on W. R. Grace property
not connected with reality

W. R. Grace building with sign reading work safely for a healthy future on it


May 31, 2000

Sign on Grace property not connected with reality


Can it be that W. R. Grace has turned over a new leaf? Apparently so. Over their 62 Whittemore Ave., Cambridge, door is a new banner. "Work safely for a healthy future," it proclaims in bold red letters.

Is this the same W. R. Grace described in "A Civil Action" that may have contaminated the wells in Woburn, causing seven children to die of leukemia? Is this the same W. R. Grace whose representatives denied that asbestos had ever been used on the Cambridge site? Is this the same W. R. Grace that was shocked, shocked to find that their own tests proved the Cambridge site an asbestos dump with 600,000 to 1.2 million pounds of asbestos in the soil?

Is this the same W. R. Grace that informed the EPA it would not clean up Libby, Mont.? Libby, Mont., is the site of a Grace mine contaminated with asbestos. Hundreds of people have either died or are dying of asbestos and related diseases. (For more information, visit the Web site,

In December 1999, Grace seemed to be committed to a healthy future. Grace representatives pledged Grace would "do everything in our power to help the people of Libby." In February 2000, when Grace representative Alan Stringer promised Grace "would do whatever is required" by the EPA to decontaminate the site of asbestos, Grace still seemed committed to a healthy future.

But by late April, all of that had changed. William Corcoran, Grace's vice president of corporate affairs, said in an April 27 article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Grace would not participate in the cleanup "because of the rights we would have to give up." He did not explain what rights those were. He apparently did not mention what rights the dead and the dying had given up.

The link between Libby, Montana and Cambridge is closer than you may think. From1963 to 1984, the Cambridge plant was the headquarters for
  Zonolite, an insulation product made from the Grace mines in Libby. Grace has claimed that no Zonolite was ever in the Cambridge facility. But you know what the joint efforts of the Alewife Study Group and Alewife Neighbors Inc. turned up in recent very limited soil tests at Grace? The very same kind of rare asbestos found in the Libby, Mont., mines. And that form of asbestos is one of the most lethal in the world.

Somehow I have trouble believing the promise of Grace's new banner.

If Grace truly wants to work safely for a healthy future, I have some suggestions: clean up Libby, Mont., immediately; pay the medical costs for all affected Montana families; thoroughly test the Cambridge Grace site for this more lethal form of asbestos using electron microscopy; pay for the neighbors' and the city's own testing, so we can all confirm Grace's findings; inform all the Alewife subway tunnel construction workers that they were exposed to asbestos and should tell their doctors; inform the neighbors in 2,700 households adjacent to the site that they were exposed to asbestos during MBTA tunnel construction and should tell their doctors; put in writing that Grace will pay for all medical costs associated with asbestos exposure for MBTA workers and North Cambridge neighbors (asbestos-related diseases incubate for 15 to 20 years); brainstorm amenities that could possibly compensate Libby for the slow strangulation death of hundreds and the ruin of an entire town, and Cambridge for the serious contamination of 27 acres of land; put in writing that there will be no unnecessary soil disturbances at the Cambridge site; all those records that the multibillion dollar, multinational corporation W. R. Grace can't find - like what happened to all the contaminated soil that was supposed to be trucked off the Grace site during the construction of the Alewife T tunnel, like the address of their Zonolite plant in Hingham, like their asbestos-related activities in Cambridge from 1954 to the present - look again.

In the meantime, I suggest Grace take down the banner. All it does is remind neighbors of the gap between what Grace says and what Grace does.

Lisa Birk lives on Kassul Park and is a member of the Alewife Study Group.

W. R. Grace building without sign


The text above was sent to the Cambridge Chronicle and was
printed in the May 31 2000 issue
as an "op-ed" piece.

Contact the Alewife Study Group, North Cambridge Massachusetts, by email at