Despite Asbestos Contamination of Libby and Countless Deaths - No Verdict for the Injured
June 2, 2009 — After three months of trial, facing up to $280 million in fines and possible jail time, W.R. Grace and six former company executives were found not guilty of violations of the Clean Air Act and obstruction of justice. The acquittal brings an end to the largest environmental crime case in U.S. history.
"Nothing can erase the legacy of what happened many, many years ago in Libby. But the notion that the company for the last 30 years engaged in this criminal conduct is not grounded in fact," said David Bernick, lead attorney for Grace.
Federal prosecutors alleged that Grace was aware of the dangers posed by their mining operations, knowingly exposing employees and the surrounding community to airborne asbestos. The Center for Asbestos Related Diseases (CARD) in Libby has identified 227 community members that have died from asbestos diseases, and lists more than 1,800 residents with active cases as a result of asbestos exposure. Court room testimony from former Grace employee Dr. Julie Yang described unsuccessful efforts by Grace to reduce the release of asbestos from Libby sourced vermiculite. There was no question that Grace's mining operation and products released asbestos.
Unfortunately the government's case was faced with the challenge of proving Grace's alleged criminal acts occurred within a timeframe limited by statutes and deadlines. The criminal provision of the Clean Air Act was enacted in 1990—the same year that Grace closed the Libby mine. The government had to prove Grace committed criminal acts after mining operations had ceased in Libby in 1990, but their evidence was limited to the period before 1999 for the conspiracy charges. Showing Grace knew of the dangers of their product was not enough, prosecutors had to show that Grace intended harm, a task that proved to be too great based on the limits of the case.
Verdict Less of Concern for Some—Daily Struggle with Asbestos Disease More Important
For residents of Libby suffering from asbestos diseases, Grace's acquittal does not change the daily struggle of living with anasbestos disease. Some residents have expressed concern about the future availability of services and being able to cover their medical costs. They worry that, while not directly related, the result of the criminal trial could negatively effect the health care benefits they receive from Grace.
The majority of Libby residents affected by asbestos exposure receive treatment from CARD. Founded in 2003, the center provides outreach awareness and screenings for the public. Tanis Hernandez, a social worker at CARD, said the verdict would not leave people without treatment. "The criminal trial doesn't mean anything to CARD," she said. "We'll keep providing healthcare to people suffering from asbestos related diseases."
Archive of W.R. Grace Trial
The Grace trial was extensively covered by a group of dedicated reporters, utilizing the web to reach an audience that would otherwise be inaccessible. For detailed accounts of the trial proceedings, please see:
- Andrew Schneider – Author of An Air That Kills and one of the journalists that brought national attention to Libby's asbestos contamination.
- UM Grace Case – Joint project between the School of Law and School of Journalism at the University of Montana. Includes day–by–day reporting, break down of legal issues, trial evidence and documentation.
- Tristan Scott – Reporter at the Missoulian, provided a unique perspective with his dedication to reporting the details of the case and members of the community affected by the asbestos contamination issues in Libby.
Trial Coverage on Asbestos Network
- W.R. Grace Claims Asbestos Types from Zonolite Mine Unregulated
- Study of Mortality From Non–Occupational Exposure from Libby Asbestos First of Its Kind
- "You can't mine completely clean vermiculite.... It's impossible."
- W.R. Grace Knew of Asbestos Dangers at Zonolite Mountain Mine
- Witness Testifies that W.R. Grace Knowingly Sold Land Covered in Asbestos–Laden Vermiculite
- The Libby Asbestos Specter Looms—El Dorado Hills Development Could Disturb Natural Asbestos Deposit
- W.R. Grace Trial Update: Appeals Court Overturns Judge Molloy's Order Barring Asbestos Victims From Courtroom
- W.R. Grace Trial Opening Statements Agree—Libby Suffered From Mine Operation
- Impact of W.R. Grace Asbestos Trial on Asbestos Trust Unknown
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.