One of the country’s largest railroad companies recently made headlines when it filed a lawsuit against a Montana health clinic that provides aid to asbestos and mesothelioma cancer victims harmed by a now shuttered vermiculite mine, and the railway company itself for the two entities’ roles in spreading carcinogenic asbestos fibers across the area. The company, BNSF Railway, is suing the Center for Asbestos Related Disease, located in Libby, Montana, claiming that the clinic is defrauding the federal government by conducting what the railway calls unnecessary tests and is relying on supposedly inaccurate radiological studies to diagnose asbestos victims in the town and surrounding area.
Though only made public recently, the suit was originally filed back in 2019. The claim asked the federal government to investigate and prosecute the Center for Asbestos Related Disease for fraud against the taxpayer. Fortunately, the federal government declined to intervene on behalf of BNSF Railway, leaving the company to carry the claim on itself under the federal whistleblower statute that allows private entities to bring claims on behalf of the government and receive a portion of any recovery for itself.
The Center for Asbestos Related Disease is one of the few healthcare providers in the country that commits itself to study the health effects of the particular form of asbestos found in the vermiculite mines of Libby. To that end, the Center for Asbestos Related Disease is the leading provider of asbestos-related diagnoses and healthcare to the residents of the small town which found itself at the epicenter of one of the worst environmental cleanups in the United States.
In 2002, the Environmental Protection Agency declared the town a federal Superfund site and spent over $600 million on environmental cleanup. The owner of the vermiculite mine, W.R. Grace, subsequently agreed to pay asbestos cancer victims’ medical costs, and an additional $250 million for the cleanup. Numerous mesothelioma cancer lawsuits were filed not only against W.R. Grace, but also BNSF Railway for its role in transporting the asbestos-contaminated vermiculite from the town of Libby and elsewhere in the country.
The Center for Asbestos Related Disease has characterized BNSF’s lawsuit as nothing more than a ploy to distract from the railway’s role in the severe damage caused to the town and its residents. Attorneys for the clinic also assert that the lawsuit will do nothing more than drain valuable resources from the organization that would otherwise be spent to help townspeople receive the vital healthcare they need in order to live longer and healthier lives with their asbestos cancer diagnoses.
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