W.R. Grace, the Columbia-based specialty chemical maker, got two pieces of good news: one from Capitol Hill, the other from Louisiana.

From the Hill, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) laid out a floor agenda that calls for action on an asbestos bill that could benefit Grace by creating a national trust fund for asbestos claims.

Grace, which filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001, citing a surge in asbestos personal injury claims, would have to pay into the fund with other companies. The fund would make the costs more predictable and settle tens of thousands of cases that have been in the courts for decades.

From Louisiana, a report concluded that areas where several Grace plants once operated show "little, if any" increase in rates of cancers associated with asbestos. The plants processed vermiculite, a mineral that contains deadly asbestos.

They were among 200 plants across the country that received vermiculite from the 1920s through 1990 from a mine Grace once owned in Libby, Mont.

The study was funded by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that is working with states and federal agencies to evaluate sites that processed Libby's vermiculite.

Grace is still fighting criminal charges related to its handling of the Libby operation and civil charges linked to its cleanup efforts at a now-defunct New Jersey plant. In New Jersey, the state attorney general alleges that the company and two of its executives lied in 1995 when they certified that the plant in Hamilton Township had been properly cleaned.

APL Honors Kossiakoff

The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory flag was at half-staff this week in memory of Alexander Kossiakoff, who died of heart failure Saturday at 91.

Kossiakoff was APL's chief scientist and had served as its fourth director, from 1969 to 1981. APL, based in Laurel, credits Kossiakoff with helping pioneer solid propellant rocket technology and helping develop the Navy's first guided missile systems.

The Applied Physics Laboratory Kossiakoff Conference and Education Center was named in his honor in 1983.

Kossiakoff was working from his APL office until about two weeks ago, a company official said.

APL, a division of Johns Hopkins that does research and development for several government agencies, is the largest private employer in Howard County.

A private family funeral was scheduled for yesterday. APL plans to hold a memorial tribute at a later date.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in Kossiakoff's name to the Johns Hopkins University Whiting School of Engineering Systems Engineering Program, 144 New Engineering Building, 3400 N. Charles St., Baltimore, Md. 21218.