The criminal trial of W.R. Grace & Co., an international chemical company under federal indictment since 2005, began yesterday in Libby, Montana.
W.R. Grace & Co. is charged with violating the Clean Air Act and obstruction of justice while operating vermiculite mines in the Northwestern Montana town. Charges focus on whether company officials knew that the mining endangered Libby’s community.
“The secret in this case that the defendants kept from the government is that their product, even when it contains a small amount of asbestos, releases hazardous levels of asbestos into the air when disturbed,” said Kris McLean, U.S. District Attorney.
During yesterday’s opening statements Federal prosecutors portrayed Grace executives as orchestrating a corporate conspiracy to maximize profits while maintaining low liability. Defense attorneys maintain that the company actively studied asbestos dangers and took steps to minimize their impact.
The prosecution contends that company officials withheld information about the damaging effects of the asbestos in mined ore dust, and that Grace has known about the harmful effets since 1976. The company and executives on trial maintain that they released all pertinent information and that the government and agencies know as much about the asbestos from the mines as they do.
W.R. Grace & Co. sold all of its mining properties in 1990, just before stricter legislation on asbestos went into effect. Libby has been a Superfund site since 1999.Image Credit: pink_fish13 from Flickr under Creative Commons license.