Posted Feb 24, 2009 01:36 am CST
Five former executives and the company that employed them, W.R. Grace & Co., went on trial today in federal court in Missoula, Mont., in what observers say is the most significant criminal case ever pursued over corporate pollution.
“There’s never been a prosecution in the United States where so many people have been sickened or killed as a result of environmental crime,” says law professor David Uhlmann of the University of Michigan. He formerly was the top environmental crimes prosecutor at the U.S. Department of Justice, notes the Los Angeles Times in a lengthy article about the trial’s opening day.
The defendants are accused of ignoring the dangers documented by their own studies concerning the Maryland-based multinational company’s vermiculite mining operation in Libby, Mont., and concealing information about the hazard posed by the asbestos contained in the vermiculite. Some 1,200 residents allegedly developed asbestos-related diseases, hundreds of them dying as a result of the exposure, prosecutors contend.
However, defense lawyers say the government has gone beyond the facts and the law in accusing the defendants of conspiracy and Clean Air Act violations.
If convicted, they face up to 15 years in prison and potential seven-figure fines.
Associated Press: “Big asbestos case in Libby, Mont., goes to trial”
New York Times: “Ex-Grace Officials on Trial in Asbestos Poisoning”
Missoulian: “W.R. Grace trial: Molloy seats jurors”
Bloomberg: “Grace Poisoning Prosecution May Disrupt Bankruptcy”
ABAJournal.com: “Grace Sets $3B Aside to Settle Asbestos Suits”