Corrected: OUTLOOK '12: US WR Grace could end 10-year-old bankruptcy case

05 January 2012 23:30  [Source: ICIS news]

Correction: In the ICIS news story headlined "Corrected: OUTLOOK '12: US WR Grace could end 10-year-old bankruptcy case" dated 5 January 2012, please read in the first paragraph …emerge from bankruptcy protection this year… instead of …emerge from bankruptcy protection next year…. A corrected story follows.

By Al Greenwood

HOUSTON (ICIS)--US-based catalyst producer WR Grace could emerge from bankruptcy protection this year as it approaches the 11th anniversary of its filing.

Meanwhile, isocyanates and polyurethane-foam producers will continue fighting price-fixing allegations, and the styrene industry will challenge the monomer's designation as an anticipated carcinogen.

WR Grace filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11 in 2001 after being overwhelmed by asbestos lawsuits.

At the time of its filing, the comany faced 65,656 such cases, involving 17 property-damage claims and more than 129,000 personal-injury claims.

In January 2011, the US bankruptcy court in Delaware confirmed the company's reorganisation plan, which provided a road map for how it would emerge from bankruptcy protection.

Despite the confirmation, WR Grace said it is still operating under bankruptcy protection because a district court ruling is holding up its emergence from Chapter 11.

The WR Grace bankruptcy is not the only legal issue that could approach resolution in 2012.

The long-running isocyanates price-fixing case could also come closer to an end.

The lawsuit was filed in 2004 in US District Court in Kansas. It accused Huntsman, Bayer, BASF, Dow Chemical and LyondellBasell of fixing prices. The complaint covered propylene oxide (PO)-based polyether polyols; methyl di-p-phenylene isocyanate (MDI); and toluene di-isocyanate (TDI) that were purchased between 1 January 1999 and 31 December 2004.

In 2006, Bayer agreed to pay $55.3m (€42.6m)  to settle the suit's allegations against it.  

In 2011, Huntsman agreed to pay $33m and BASF agreed to pay $51m. LyondellBasell managed to settle the case for nothing.

The court has approved all of the settlements, leaving Dow Chemical as the lone producer fighting the class-action lawsuit.

Meanwhile, Dow and the other producers will continue to fight two other price-fixing complaints brought by customers who chose not to participate in the class-action lawsuit.

Many of those isocyanates purchasers are entangled in a separate price-fixing lawsuit, in which they are accused of fixing prices for finished polyurethane foam. Isocyanates are a feedstock for polyurethanes.

So far, one of the foam makers has proposed paying up to $15m to settle the price-fixing allegations against it.

The settlement, proposed by Vitafoam, is the first since the allegations arose in 2010.

Under the proposal, Vitafoam would pay $9m with the possibility of paying up to $6m more, according to court documents. In addition, Vitafoam offered to cooperate with the polyurethane-foam customers in their lawsuit against other producers.

In proposing the settlement, Vitafoam denied all allegations that it has done anything wrong.

The proposal still needs to be approved by the US District Court in northern Ohio.

Meanwhile, in the District of Columbia's US District Court, the styrenics industry will try to remove the monomer from a list designating it as a possible carcinogen.

In June 2010, the US Department of Health and Human Services declared that styrene is "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen" in its 12th report on carcinogens.

The Styrene Information and Research Center sued the department, requesting that the court block styrene from being included in the report.

The council and other trade groups warned that the designation could encourage customers to use more expensive and less effective substitutes for styrene-based products.

The designation would also disrupt key styrene end markets such as home construction and food packaging, the groups warned. Companies could go out of business and people could lose jobs.

The lawsuit is still pending.

However, the US Congress has proposed funding a scientific review of styrene's listing as an anticipated carcinogen. That review would be conducted by the National Academy of Sciences.

($1 = €0.77)

By: Al Greenwood
+1 713 525 2645

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