Grace Takes Asbestos Issues to High Court

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W.R. Grace and Company lawyers have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review pretrial rulings in the government’s case against them, which charges that the company and its executives tried to hide the health risks associated with its asbestos-tainted vermiculite mine in the small town of Libby, Montana, where several hundred individuals have already been stricken with or died from mesothelioma, an asbestos cancer.

According to an Associated Press article, the chemical manufacturer filed a petition this week asking the high court to evaluate a decision by a federal appeals court involving the type of asbestos found at the Libby mine.

Grace attorneys have maintained that the types of asbestos found in the Libby mine – winchite and richterite – were not regulated by the federal government during the years that the company operated the mine. That means, they say, they can’t be prosecuted for violations of the Clean Air Act.

Last year, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy of Missoula agreed with the company. However, his decision was overturned by an appeals court. Grace attorneys hope the Supreme Court will side with Molloy and reverse the appellate court decision.

According to the company’s petition, the government “is trying to convict defendants of violating the Clean Air Act by releasing substances that the government itself has excluded from the list of substances covered by the act.”

Andrew Ames, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, said Wednesday he could not comment, “as this is a matter in ongoing litigation.”

Attorneys for the U.S. government have 30 days to file a response to Grace’s petition. After that, the Supreme Court will decide whether or not to hear the case. If they deny the request, the appeals court decision will stand. If they agree to listen to arguments, the oral portion of the hearing will probably begin in October.