For decades, folks in Libby, Montana knew the fine dusty stuff that covered everything in town from big rigs to baseball fields was asbestos.
They knew where it was coming from, too. Right over there, wafting out of the W. R. Grace mine on the other side of town.
NBD. Just part of life, they assumed. No one told them otherwise.
Lifetime resident Helen Bundrock remembers Grace “called it a nuisance dust, (they) did.”
Helen, her husband and 4 of their 5 children have been diagnosed with asbestosis, a slowly progressive lung disease that is associated with mesothelioma and premature death.
Turns out the medical community and who knows, maybe some mining companies knew about the risks of asbestos for decades.
Now, Federal prosecutors have put the mining company on trial. They claim asbestosis sickened at least 1,000 residents of Libby Montana, and killed 200 more.
“There’s never been a case where so many people were sickened or killed by environmental crime,” says David Uhlmann, said the Justice Department’s former top prosecutor.
The Feds allege that until 1990, the company conspired to “knowingly release” asbestos and that it failed to reveal the risks to employees and residents, leaving them “in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury.”
Grace faces fines of up to $280 million if convicted. Several executives could end up in jail.
Grace doesn’t deny that asbestos emanated from the mine nor that some were sickened and died. But it “categorically denies any criminal wrongdoing.” In fact Grace says, as information about the problem became known, it acted to mitigate the risk and communicate openly about it.
The trial is expected to last four months.