W.R. Grace Trial Opening Statements Agree—Libby Suffered From Mine Operation

Libby Residents Suffer from High Levels of Asbestos Diseases Due to Mine Contamination

LIBBY, MT - February 24, 2009 - In Monday's opening statements at the W.R. Grace trial in Missoula, MT, there was only one thing that the prosecution and defense could seem to agree upon-the residents of Libby have suffered tragic losses as a consequence of W.R. Grace's vermiculite mine. But the estimated 1,200 Libby residents that have developed or died from asbestos diseases are not the focus of this criminal case.

W.R. Grace and five former executives are charged with a federal conspiracy including violations of the Clean Air Act and obstruction of justice. The charges relate to whether the company and its top employees knew they were endangering the community of Libby by mining asbestos-contaminated vermiculite from Zonolite Mountain, and whether they did so in violation of federal law.

Federal prosecutors claim that Grace was aware of the dangers posed by the asbestos inherent in their mining operation. A study in 1976 showed that 63% of employees that had worked 10 years or more for Grace had lung abnormalities. In 1982, a Harvard researcher concluded that an "excessive number" of former Grace employees had died of lung disease. "This case is about a company that mined a hazardous product, chose profits over people's health, and chose avoiding liability over disclosing the health hazard to the government," said U.S. attorney Kris McLean in Monday's opening statements.

In their opening statement, the defense portrayed Grace as a concerned company, alarmed by growing evidence that asbestos exposure was dangerous. According to the defense, Grace was more than willing to do what they could to protect their employees and the surrounding communities. They claimed that Grace spent millions of dollars to improve operations and lower worker's asbestos exposure to below federal health standards. When workers continued to develop asbestos-related diseases, apparently Grace warned the government that their standards might need improvement.

Asbestos Exposure Dangerous Even at Low Levels

As the trial continues to evolve, one common theme will continue to resonate-asbestos exposure can have serious health consequences. Tremolite asbestos, the asbestos type found in Grace's vermiculite mine, can cause the aggressive cancer mesothelioma, a cancer unique to asbestos exposure.

For a history on the W.R. Grace saga, visit:

  • "You can't mine completely clean vermiculite.... It's impossible."
  • W.R. Grace Aware of Tremolite Asbestos Dangers from Libby Mine
  • W.R. Grace: The Trial
  • Impact of W.R. Grace Asbestos Trial on Asbestos Trust Unknown
  • W.R. Grace Challenges Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal's Ruling
  • Federal Standards for Miner's Asbestos Exposure Changed
  • W.R. Grace to Pay $250 million for Asbestos Cleanup
  • The EPA's Cleanup of Asbestos in Libby, MT
  • W.R. Grace Knowingly Sold Land Covered in Asbestos-Laden Vermiculite
  • Appeals Court Overturns Asbestos Witness Courtroom Exclusion

Protecting Your Legal Rights

If you have been exposed to asbestos and developed an asbestos-related disease, an asbestos attorney can assist you in protecting your legal rights. For over 25 years, the attorneys at Brayton Purcell have represented injured individuals and their families in personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits from asbestos-related diseases, including asbestosis and mesothelioma. Dedicated to helping our clients protect their legal rights, we invite you to contact us with your legal questions.