The Coeur d’Alene/Post Falls Press is a local Idaho paper that frequently covers news about nearby towns, so it’s not surprising that they recently profiled Gayla Benefield, the woman who some say put Libby, Montana’s mesothelioma and asbestos battle on the map. Benefield lost her father, her mother, and her husband to asbestos-related diseases blamed on the W.R. Grace & Co. vermiculite mine, and she and four of her five children are also facing the same deadly illnesses.
Newspaper Calls Gayla Benefield an “Iconoclast”
In calling Gayla Benefield an “iconoclast”, the Idaho paper is referring to the battle that Benefield waged against W.R. Grace & Co. once she realized that it was their fault that so many in her town were dying of malignant mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses. Many of the townspeople were unhappy with her when she started asking questions about the dust that covered everything. The mine was responsible for nearly everybody’s income, and they feared that she would ruin things.
“I remember sitting at the table in the 1970s, watching my father’s health decline and thinking, ‘Maybe that damn dust has something to do with it,’” Benefield told the paper. Her father ended up dying in 1974 following exposure to amphibole asbestos in the W.R. Grace & Co. mine, and her mother died 22 years later after having laundered her husband’s asbestos-covered work clothes for years.
Woman Led Fight Against W.R. Grace
In voicing concern over the rising number of mesothelioma and asbestos-related deaths in her town, Benefield faced significant pushback. “I’ll tell you what, I may have been the least-liked person in all of Libby,” Benefield said. “There are some people who probably still think that, and I’ve made peace with that.” She did her research into what the company knew about the dangers of asbestos going back to the 1960s, and then made it public.
“When no one wanted to listen I strolled into the Capitol, and I didn’t stop until people pretty much hated me.” The initial result was that she received compensation for her mother’s wrongful death, but then the information became more widely known and the town of Libby became known as a mesothelioma hotspot.
Ms. Benefield’s actions not only led to dramatic changes in circumstances for people in her own town, but also led to widespread knowledge about the dangers of asbestos and of W.R. Grace & Co.’s products in particular. If you or someone you love was affected by asbestos and you need information, the Patient Advocates at Mesothelioma.net can help. Contact us today at 1-800-692-8608 for assistance.