The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday that federal prosecutors can reinstate criminal charges of “knowing endangerment‚ against W.R. Grace & Co. and seven of its executives for ‚ “deliberately exposing 8,000 people in Libby, Mont., to an epidemic of lung disease. “The district court erred, said a statement referring to yesterday’s reversal of ruling.
“This is excellent. When we first got involved in this case half a decade ago, the first documents we uncovered caused us to say, these guys ought to be in jail, said Darrell Scott, who now serves as chairman of a bankruptcy court committee representing asbestos property damage plaintiffs in W.R. Grace’s bankruptcy.
From 1963 to the early 1990s, W.R. Grace and Company operated a vermiculite mine just six miles outside the small town of Libby, Montana. The vermiculite, which contained shards of toxic asbestos, was inhaled by miners and the hazardous dust was brought home to their families on their clothes. Community members who didn’t work at the mine or have family members who worked at the mine were also affected due to the large amounts of asbestos in the air. Workers and others were never warned of the dangers.
In 1999, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer released a report showing that hundreds of Libby vermiculite miners and their families had died and thousands more in the town had become ill. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency immediately began an emergency cleanup of the area.
But internal W.R. Grace documents produced through legal discovery showed that company officials knew that the vermiculite was extremely dangerous but did nothing to protect their employees. Furthermore, the dangerous material was shipped to more than 200 processing plants throughout the country and used to make Zonolite insulation, which ‚ experts report ‚ is now in the attics and walls of anywhere from 15 to 35 million homes in the U.S.