Study of Mortality From Non–Occupational Exposure from Libby Asbestos First of Its Kind

Break-Through Study Shows Health Risks from Secondary Asbestos Exposure

LIBBY, MT — April 20, 2009 — Renowned pulmonary specialist and government expert witness Dr. Alan Whitehouse submitted an expert report to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware analyzing asbestos diseases and mortality rates within Libby, Montana. The report follows 1,800 active asbestos cases from the Center for Asbestos Related Disease located in Libby.

Whitehouse's study specifically attributes death by asbestos diseases to non–occupational asbestos exposure, the first study of its kind. The report identified 227 patients that had died prior to July 2008. Of those 227, 41 were excluded for not having an asbestos disease diagnosis, no death certificate or not having asbestos exposure pre–1990; the year Grace closed the vermiculite mine in Libby. A total of 186 patients were included in the final analysis.

According to the report, 77 non–miners have died from asbestos disease since 1998. "I determined that 62% (116/186) of deceased patients died of asbestos–related disease—seven from mesothelioma, 19 from asbestos–related lung cancer, 11 from other asbestos related cancer, and 79 from asbestosis," Whitehouse writes. "Only 34% (39/116) of those who died of non–malignant disease were mineworkers; 66% (77/116) were community members and family members of mineworkers."

Challenges in Case Against Grace

The results of this study reflect the center of the prosecution's criminal case against W. R. Grace in the trial currently taking place in Missoula, Montana. Coupled with Grace's knowledge of the dangers of asbestos exposure, showing that simply living in the town of Libby increases the chances for residents to develop asbestos diseases would be a key to proving the criminal charges against Grace of knowing of the eminent danger. However, since the report was released on December 29, 2008, the prosecution will not be able to use it in the criminal trial. The prosecution was required to disclose all case evidence two years prior to the start of the Grace trial.

For the government, proving that Grace acted criminally is a difficult task. Grace and five former executives are charged with a federal conspiracy including violations to the Clean Air Act and obstruction of justice. The charges are tied to whether Grace knew they were endangering the residents of Libby by mining the asbestos laden vermiculite and whether they committed these acts in violation of federal law. The criminal provision of the Clean Air Act wasn't enacted until 1990. Prosecutors must show that Grace committed criminal acts not only after 1990, but also before the 1999 statute of limitations.

Libby Residents Still Developing Asbestos Diseases

Regardless of the outcome of the trial, or the numerous tests that identify the health dangers of asbestos, Libby residents continue to develop asbestos related diseases. Whitehouse continues to diagnose new patients with asbestos diseases at rate of almost one per week—an unfortunate trend that he doesn't see changing in the near future.

For some additional information of on the W.R. Grace trial, please see the following:

  • "You can't mine completely clean vermiculite... It's impossible."
  • Libby Residents Suffered From Asbestos Mine

Protecting Your Legal Rights

For over 25 years, Brayton Purcell has been involved in asbestos trials, representing clients with asbestos related diseases, including asbestosis and mesothelioma. Contact one of our asbestos and mesothelioma attorneys with your legal questions.