W.R. Grace & Co. Zonolite Processing Plant

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Year Built: 1953 | Year Abandoned: 2007
Status: Under Renovation
Photojournalist: Gage Fears

The former W.R. Grace & Co. “Zonolite” Vermiculite Expanding Plant in North Little Rock, Ar was built in 1953. This plant processed vermiculite that was shipped in from Libby, Montana. Zonolite is a highly toxic vermiculite insulation product mixed with asbestos that was produced from the 1940s umtil the 1990s.

The plant exfoliated vermiculite from its construction in 1953, through its purchase by W.R. Grace & Co. In 1964, until 1989. Before 1964, there is no information on who owned the building. In the 60s W.R. Grace was buying up a lot of vermiculite plants. Including the original Zonolite brand plant in Libby, Montana. Which, was owned by E.N. Alley. The company bought that plant a year prior to buying this one. It is possible before 1964 this was one of Alley’s plants, or atleast was contracted out to produce his product.

In between 1989 and 1997, the building’s history is lost or fuzzy.  In 1997, North Little Rock Auto Salvage was founded and operated out of this building until the mid to late 2000s (unknown date of when the company dissolved).

In 2011, a fire broke out and was responded to. The local EPA was dispatched out to the fire that evening. In February 2012, the EPA did numerous air, ground and surface tests for asbestos poisoning within a 1/4 mile radius and found that a 50’x50′ section previously suspected of the most asbestos poisoning was at a 2% level. W.R. Grace & Company, excavated the section according to reports. It is still a concern to this day that there is still asbestos on the property.

For years the building was used as storage of furniture and appliances of the owner of Rock City, just down the road. It lay abandoned for possibly a decade. In between 2012 and 2021 at some point, the water tower behind the building (the concrete blocks for the legs are still there), was either torn down or fell down. Now the building is being updated, cleaned out, and converted to a private recreation building, including a Pickle-ball court (as pictured). 

The owner currently has 10+ cameras that run 24 hours a day around the premises. The building is under constant surveillance. Currently, plans to renovate the building are to be finished by late 2022, or early 2023.

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