W.R. Grace, the Columbia, Md.-based specialty chemical firm, emerged from Chapter 11 this week, more than 12 years after it filed for bankruptcy protection to buy it time to resolve asbestos litigation.
Grace formally emerged Monday night. At the time it sought protection, the company was facing more than 129,000 personal-injury lawsuits from people who said they became sick after being exposed to asbestos, a heat-
resistant material used in insulation that can cause cancer. About 120 of those claims stemmed from mining operations in Libby, Mont., where Grace ran a vermiculite mine and processing mill from 1963 to 1990.
Vermiculite is a naturally occurring mineral that is not hazardous on its own, but the vermiculite from Libby was contaminated with asbestos and used in the majority of vermiculite insulation sold in the United States from 1919 to 1990, often under the name Zonolite, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Zonolite is an attic-
insulation product that Grace discontinued in the 1980s.
The reorganization plan establishes two trusts worth $4 billion to compensate victims and property owners exposed to asbestos. The funds will come from a number of sources, including cash, warrants to buy Grace common stock, deferred-payment obligations, insurance proceeds and payments from former affiliates — companies that were owned by Grace but that have been sold.
“I can’t say we got everything we wanted or thought we were entitled to, but on the other hand, I can say W.R. Grace and its shareholders felt like we got a lot more than we were entitled to,” said Peter Van N. Lockwood, a Caplin & Drysdale attorney for the committee of personal-injury claimants in the bankruptcy. “Probably neither side is totally satisfied, but that’s what compromises are for.”
W.R. Grace, founded in 1854, has 6,500 employees in 40 countries — including 1,000 in Maryland. Since entering Chapter 11, its business has not only continued but grown. Grace has completed 25 acquisitions, including the $500 million deal for the Unipol polypropylene licensing and catalysts business from Dow Chemical, which closed in December. Revenue has grown from $1.6 billion in 2000 to $3.2 billion in 2012.
“The emergence from Chapter 11 for the company does not represent a new direction,” said Rich Badmington, Grace’s vice president of global communications. “We’ll continue to grow the business as we have over the last 12 years.”
The bankruptcy dragged on for an unusually long time, partly because the first several years were spent litigating the asbestos personal-injury liabilities. A settlement was reached on that issue in 2008, but it took years to resolve questions about what the company’s other creditors were owed.
“There’s not a big universe of companies out there that are in any way similarly situated,” Lockwood said. “I don’t know that there’s any particular lesson that people will draw from the Grace case other than if you want to stay in bankruptcy for a very long time and spend a lot of money fighting about your liabilities, you can probably manage to accomplish that.”
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