According to a story in the Missoulian, the US Supreme Court has denied the appeals of W.R. Grace and six of the companies’ executives who were trying to avoida criminal trial on charges that they violated the Clean Air Act by unleashing asbestos dust on the community of Libby, Montana, home to the W.R. Grace vermiculite mine.
The Grace executives were indicted in 2005 for knowingly exposing the mine workers, as well as Libby residents. To date 300 to 400 residents of Libby have died from asbestos related illnesses, and hundreds of other residents currently suffer from asbestos related disease. The diseases caused by asbestos include mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining surrounding the lung called the pleura; various other cancers, including lung cancer; and asbestosis, a scarring of the lungs caused by exposure to asbestos.
Grace’s appeal centered on the argument that the EPA’s definition of asbestos didn’t include the asbestos fibers found in their vermiculite mine in Libby. According to an article on the history of the mine, W.R. Grace bought the mine in 1963. A month after the purchase was complete, a W.R. Grace executive wrote a memo stating that there was asbestos present at the mine and opined about possible ways to market the stuff.
Throughout the 1960’s Grace conducted x-rays on employees and by 1969 over 60% of their work force was found to have abnormal x-rays evidencing asbestos exposure. In addition, the local medical community in Libby told the company workers were getting sick. Grace also conducted its own studies which found that the asbestos in the vermiculite caused asbestosis and cancer.
Grace executives could stand trial as early as this fall.