COLUMBIA, Md. — W.R. Grace & Co. has announced a voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in response to a sharply rising number of asbestos claims. The company, a diversified manufacturer and supplier of specialty coatings additives, said it would continue to operate its businesses while it reorganizes and develops a plan to address the asbestos claims and other debts. Chairman, President and CEO Paul J. Norris said the company “will continue to operate our business in the usual manner, meeting all of our responsibilities to customers, employees, suppliers and business partners. There is no other forum currently existing that would allow us to accomplish all of these objectives.”

Grace said it was hit with an unexpected 81% increase in asbestos claims filed last year, making it likely that the company could not resolve pending and future claims under existing circumstances.

Grace said it ceased to use asbestos in any products in 1973, but the company has been targeted by more than 325,000 asbestos personal-injury claims, and has paid out $1.9 billion to manage and resolve asbestos-related litigation. Five other major companies involved in asbestos-related litigation have voluntarily filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy since Jan. 1, 2000, bringing the total to 26 companies since 1982.