W.R. Grace Claims Asbestos Types from Zonolite Mine Unregulated

W.R. Grace Argues only Tremolite Asbestos Regulated

May 1, 2009 - Called into question in the W.R. Grace criminal trial was what actually constitutes "asbestos." Are the mineral concentrations found in Grace's Zonolite mine classifiable as "asbestos"? If so, which of those minerals are actually controlled by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)? To help clarify what qualifies as asbestos, the U.S. requested that District Judge Donald Molloy take "judicial notice" of the definition of asbestos, as handed down by the appellate court. The U.S. prosecution also called U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Geologist Greg Meeker to testify.

Appellate Ruling Disagreed with Molloy's Asbestos Definition

U.S. attorney Kris McLean asked Molloy to accept and read the appellate court'sSeptember 20, 2007 ruling on the definition of asbestos. The appellate court found that Molloy was wrong when he "improperly limited the term 'asbestos' to the six minerals covered by the civil regulations. Asbestos is adequately defined as a term and need not include mineral-by-mineral classifications to provide notice of its hazardous nature..." Molloy only read the jury the physical characteristic as outlined by the appellate court, but declined to tell the jury that the appellate court had also ruled that the definition of asbestos "need not include mineral by mineral classifications."

Geologist Testifies that Fibers are Mixtures of Minerals

Author of a mineral study examining the composition of minerals found in Grace's Zonolite mine, geologist Greg Meeker was called to testify. His study concluded that most of the respirable forms of asbestos found in the Zonolite samples would not be categorized as asbestos under the EPA's current asbestos regulatory structure. The minerals found in the Libby mine included mostly amphiboles called winchite (84%), richterite (11%), and tremolite (6%)-the EPA does not regulate winchite and richerite. Meeker's study proposed that, based on improved and more precise analysis, regulations should include "asbestiform" or "fibrous amphibole" as controlled forms of asbestos.

Regardless of Court's Asbestos Definition, Exposure Still Health Risk

Of the three main concentrations of asbestos-like minerals found in the Zonolite mine, the EPA regulates only tremolite. The asbestos is a combination of different types of minerals-with modern analysis showing mineral types changing along the length of single fibers. Regardless of classification, the government is pushing to show that the real health effects of asbestos exposure are evident in the residents of Libby and beyond dispute. Prior court testimony backed by scientific studies has concluded that there is not a minimum level of asbestos exposure that does not present a risk for asbestos disease.

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. Please contact one of our asbestos attorneys with any legal questions regarding asbestos disease or your potential asbestos case.