W.R. Grace Knew of Asbestos Dangers at Zonolite Mountain Mine

Vermiculite Contaminated With Tremolite - a Known Carcinogen

March 19, 2009 - Zonolite manufacturer W.R. Grace was aware of the dangers posed by the vermiculite mined out of Libby, MT, as early as 1976 according to former financial analyst James Becker. Employed by Grace from 1976-1980 and a member of the Zonolite Strategic Task Force, Becker assisted in identifying long-term problems with Grace's Zonolite insulation product. The task force identified a number of issues, the most prominent being stricter asbestos regulations, asbestos workers' compensation lawsuits and the potential of criminal charges.

The concern within Grace's top brass was not the safety of workers, but the profitability of the Libby mine in general. According to Becker's testimony, "... the Zonolite business was not growing as fast as they wanted it to grow. And then there was the issue with tremolite in the vermiculite."

Changes in federal asbestos regulations would have required Grace to label any products containing asbestos as hazardous. According to Becker, "They [Grace] were worried that nobody would buy it [Zonolite]."

Medical Expert Testifies that Libby Residents in Imminent Danger of Asbestos Exposure

Former EPA senior medical officer Dr. Aubrey Miller spent three days on the witness stand covering a variety of topics from asbestos release tests to cases of asbestosisdeveloping in non-miners. Despite the range of topics covered by Dr. Miller, an expert witness for the U.S., a common theme emerged, Grace had information demonstrating the asbestos release from their Zonolite product and was aware of the health risks exposure to tremolite asbestos could cause.

Dr. Miller testified about the uniqueness of asbestos diseases within the townspeople of Libby. The diseases weren't different, but the people developing them were anything but typical. He spoke of residents that had developed asbestosis and never set foot in Grace's mine. According to Dr. Miller's testimony, "Still to this day we've never seen other reports (outside of Libby) of a non-worker dying of asbestosis."

W.R. Grace's Asbestos Knowledge Continues to Evolve

With each passing witness, Grace's knowledge of asbestos within their vermiculite product and the Libby mine becomes more apparent. Unfortunately, their knowledge of the health hazards asbestos exposure could cause does not make them guilty of the criminal charges they are faced with. The criminal provision of the Clean Air Act was enacted in 1990, the same year Grace closed the mine in Libby. The U.S. has the difficult task of proving Grace committed criminal acts after 1990. Regardless of the moral wrongs committed by Grace in exposing not only their mine employees but the entire town of Libby to deadly amounts of asbestos, trial Judge Donald Molloy described the complexity of the case in a simple statement to jurors, "I hope we're not misleading you, but there is no violation of the law prior to 1990 because it wasn't illegal."

Recent trial coverage on Asbestos Network:

  • W.R. Grace Claims Asbestos Types from Zonolite Mine Unregulated
  • "You can't mine completely clean vermiculite.... It's impossible."
  • Testimony that W.R. Grace Knowingly Sold Asbestos Covered Land
  • Appeals Court Overturns Asbestos Witness Courtroom Exclusion
  • Libby Residents Suffered From Asbestos Mine, W.R. Grace Asbestos Trial
  • Effect of W.R. Grace Criminal Asbestos Trial on Asbestos Trust

Protecting Your Legal Rights

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