A jury has acquitted W.R. Grace & Company and its former executives of knowingly exposing mine workers and the residents of Libby, Montana to asbestos.
“We at Grace are gratified by today’s verdict and thank the men and women of the jury who were open to hearing the facts,” said Fred Festa, the company’s CEO in a statement obtained by CNN.
Prosecutors had alleged the mining company conspired to “knowingly release” asbestos for decades. “It was a purpose of the conspiracy to conceal and misrepresent the hazardous nature of the…asbestos contaminated vermiculite, thereby enriching defendants and others,” read the indictment.
Best estimates are that Libby residents suffered 200 excess deaths and 1,000 illnesses due to asbestos exposure.
The fine, dusty stuff had blanketed everything in town from big rigs to baseball fields. Libby residents testified that Grace never told them about health risks associated with the stuff.
Grace never denied that asbestos came from its vermiculite mine in town, nor that it had sickened and killed many, but it vigorously denied a conspiracy.
In fact, it claimed that it acted responsibly once it became aware of the problem, and that it paid millions to cover the asbestos-related medical bills of Libby residents.
Asbestosis causes numerous illnesses including mesothelioma, a rare cancer that originates in the lining of the lungs, abdomen and heart.
Grace faced fines of up to $280 million, and certain Grace executives were looking at jail time had the verdict gone the other way.
“I don’t see how they could have gotten out of it,” said Steven Schnetter, who worked at the mine for 17 years before developing asbestosis, a lung disease caused by exposure to asbestos fibers.