September 19, 2011 / 12:45 PM / 8 years ago

Montana court approves key asbestos deal: reports

(Reuters) - A Montana court has approved a $43 million settlement for people who were sickened by asbestos exposure from a former W.R. Grace mine, with a large part of the settlement to be paid by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, local papers reported.

The mine in Libby, Montana, produced vermiculite, which was popular in home insulation. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, more than 70 percent of the vermiculite used in the country over eight decades came from Libby — and it was all contaminated by asbestos deposits in the same mine.

According to multiple Montana newspapers, more than 1,300 people will receive payouts from the settlement approved Friday, ending a decade-long legal battle.

Most are now over 65 and many suffer from the lung disease asbestosis as a result of their exposure, the reports said. Because of the extremely long latency associated with asbestos-related diseases, people continue to be diagnosed decades after the mine closed.

National Indemnity, Berkshire’s reinsurance unit, will pay about 40 percent of the settlement, the papers said. Berkshire has been active in taking over asbestos obligations from insurance companies in exchange for huge up-front premiums.

Reporting by Ben Berkowitz in New York, editing by Dave Zimmerman

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