The Trial of Libby, Montana’s, Poisonous Grace


On Thursday in Missoula, Montana,
the jury selection began for the criminal trial of five executives of the W.R. Grace & Company. The men stand accused of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and violations of the Clean Air Act.

Here’s what the Wall Street Journal says about the broad strokes of case:

Federal prosecutors allege that the executives knew that workers at a Grace-owned vermiculite mine in Libby, Mont. (pictured), were exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos, but continued to release it into the air and misrepresented the danger. Click here for Thursday’s NYT article; here for coverage from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which has followed the case extensively.

At least 200 deaths and thousands of illnesses are known to be related to the town’s exposure to the mine’s dust clouds of vermiculite, which was layered with naturally occurring asbestos.

The Seattle Post- Intelligencer has been doing, perhaps, the best job with its coverage of all the events leading up to the charges:

Tiny Libby, Montana, depended for years on the jobs at a vermiculite mine. But the mine is closed now, and a P-I investigation shows the town is paying a tragic price for those jobs. Hundreds of former miners, their wives and children, and other townspeople have either died or been diagnosed with fatal illness from asbestos the mine released into the air. No one stepped in to stop the dying. Now the town wonders when it will end, and if the town’s children are still at risk

And there is this from the NY Times:

A reckoning in one of American history’s worst industrial disasters, which unfolded here over seven decades as an asbestos-tainted mineral was dug from the ground and processed…


Dr. Teitelbaum, a retired toxicologist who is among the prosecution’s witnesses, says that in 1977, under a contract with Grace, a laboratory he then owned was sent hundreds of chest X-rays of Libby workers and of workers at a Grace vermiculite mine in South Carolina. The South Carolina mine’s vermiculite was not tainted with asbestos, and Dr. Teitelbaum says he saw the differences immediately.

“At end of the study, I wrote a letter saying that 30 percent of the miners in Libby have asbestosis, and nobody in South Carolina has asbestosis,” he said. “They said thank you very much and did nothing with it.”

The Judge on the case is U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy, a man who is not easily pushed around—by either side.

It will be an interesting and important case to watch.


UPDATE: Admittedly, I’m particularly interested in the issue in that, Libby, Montana, is about 120 miles away from the cabin in West Glacier, where I go most summers. In Montana distances, 120 miles is just a neighborhood or two over and so I’ve been hearing tales about the suffering caused by W.R Grace for….quite literally decades.

Libby is located in one of the very reddest areas of a red state. (Personally I consider MT to be a purple state, but that’s another discussion altogether.)

Yet, one of the big issues in this trial finding a jury of 12 people that aren’t already biased against Grace, because so many people have been affected, or know people who have been affected, by what surely appears to be criminal negligence.

Most cases of this nature only go to civil court. But this one is a criminal case for good reason— with the Grace executives looking at possible decades in prison. “Worse than Three Mile Island and Love Canal combined,” is the way the citizens in Libby describe the effects of W.R. Grace on their town—-and on the people whose lungs, in the words of one, turned to “solid concrete.”


PS: I’ll have something on yesterday’s City Council hearing on the Youth Promise Act either later in the day or over the weekend.


  • I really would like to know the other side as this issue progresses. I’m suspect of anything out of the NYT, for good reasons.

    This seems similar to black-lung disease of coal miners for which there was plenty of evidence but not any action for decades. I suspect that the government regulators are not lilly-white on this either.

  • The greedy and inhumane actions of WR Grace Co., and the entire mining industry for that matter, is nothing new, it has a history of shame and repulsive exploitation of not only the American worker but of our natural resources and the environment we all have to live in.

    In New Mexico where I live much of the time, WR Grace and it’s now abandoned Vermiculite strip mines, is guilty of the proven deaths of 168 people, and this figure is estimated to be only 20% of actual deaths caused by various diseases caused by the mining operations.
    And these Vermiculite strip mines in many cases continue to kill as the continuous New Mexico winds blow dangerous minerals into the atmosphere and across the country.

  • More greedy executives from the Bush/Cheney devil years !!! Boil the these WR Grace rich executives and all the other robber baron gavachos in a hot cauldron of menudo !!!!

    My abuelita will glady cook some of her famous menudo made with hatch new mexico chile for the greedy WR Grace executives from the Bush/Cheney era of greed and corruption !!!!

  • DN your act is getting a bit shop worn. Time for a new one. (And the W.R. Grace situation dates back wa-a-ay before Bush/Cheney)

    Woody, don’t believe the NYT, go read the write-ups by those notorious commie rags, the WSJ and Forbes.

    I added a bit of extra stuff in an update, BTW. This is a story set in the reddest part of a red state in a town of hardworking people—who were lethally betrayed by a company that chose profit over health—and in 200 cases—the life—of its workers and their families and neighbors.

  • “Worse than Three Mile Island and Love Canal combined”

    No one was hurt at TMI and stress from hysteria was the biggest health issue at Love Canal. However, I still sympathize with the Libby residents.

  • Asbestos in Your House

    The Libby mine is NOT and asbestos mine. They were mining vermiculite, which is safe (by itself), and this mine produced over 70% of all the vermiculite used worldwide, unfortunately this mine was laced with
    asbestos. You may have one of the 30 million homes which have Libby Vermiculite in the attic and walls, which was marketed as Zonolite. This insulation material likely contains ASBESTUS.


    From this point forward, after reading the above words you are just as culpable as the executives at Grace for any resulting harm. You may be breathing asbestos as you read this blog.

    Not to mitigate the culpability of the executives or company. But for many years, asbestos was considered better than sliced bread. Only after years of exposure did it become obvious that the invisible fibers would stick in your lungs and cause death after many years of exposure.

    2000 years ago, the Greeks wove asbestos into fireproof cloth which was used to protect fireman and workers in hot environments. It was considered a miracle material which could be used as a tablecloth or napkin and then cleaned by tossing into the fire where it would come out white and clean.

  • #3’s arbuelita’s menudo sounds good on a sunday morning. Maybe she could invite don quixote’s long crew of characters to breakfast also.

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