Libby MT: Poisoned Town

What is affected
Housing Social/public
Housing private
Land Social/public
Land Private
Type of violation Demolition/destruction
Date 01 December 2008
Region NA [ North America ]
Country United States
Location Tennessee

Affected persons

Total 1200
Men 0
Women 0
Children 0
Proposed solution
Land losses

- Land area (square meters)

- Total value
Housing losses
- Number of homes
- Total value €
Infrastructure 823380000

Duty holder(s) /responsible party(ies)

Brief narrative Decades later, asbestos-ravaged town has its day in court

By Josh Levs, CNN

2 March 2009

(CNN) -- For much of the last century, people in the small town of Libby, Montana, were surrounded by toxic asbestos. It covered patches of grass, dusted the tops of cars and drifted through the air in a hazy smoke that became a part of their daily lives.

Now, after decades of suffering and watching loved ones die, area residents are getting their day in court.

Federal prosecutors have begun a trial of the mining company they blame for the pollution, which doctors say left more than 1,000 people ill and more than 200 dead.
"There`s never been a case where so many people were sickened or killed by environmental crime," says David Uhlmann, who helped spearhead the case when he was the Justice Department`s top prosecutor of environmental crimes before stepping down in 2007.

"It`s the most significant environmental criminal prosecution that`s ever been brought."

Donald Munsel, a 71-year-old Libby resident, told CNN on Monday that the legal efforts "should have been over a long time ago." Munsel says he has suffered from lung cancer linked to asbestos exposure.

Those who lost loved ones were among the first witnesses at the trial. Arguments began last week at the federal courthouse in Missoula, Montana.
They said the town was kept in the dark about the dangers. One woman said that as kids, she and friends would light up the toxic dust and even "put it in our mouths," CNN affiliate KPAX-TV of Missoula reported.
Until 1990, W.R. Grace & Company operated a mine in Libby that produced vermiculite, a substance used in all sorts of products, from insulation to fertilizers.
The vermiculite was contaminated with tremolite asbestos -- a particularly toxic form linked to numerous illnesses including mesothelioma, a cancer that can attack the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart.
The government`s indictment alleges that W.R. Grace conspired to "knowingly release" the asbestos. It says the company tried to hide the dangers from employees and residents, leaving them "in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury."

"It was a purpose of the conspiracy to conceal and misrepresent the hazardous nature of the tremolite asbestos contaminated vermiculite, thereby enriching defendants and others," the indictment reads.

And the indictment says W.R. Grace tried to "defraud the United States and others by impairing, impeding, and frustrating" the Environmental Protection Agency and other government agencies once they launched an investigation in 1999.

The 10-count indictment also includes charges of wire fraud and obstruction of justice.

If convicted, the company could face criminal fines of up to $280 million -- twice the value of its profits from the mine.

Five executives who are named as defendants could face prison time. Prosecutors plan to try a sixth executive separately.

Company denies conspiracy
The company does not deny that asbestos emanated from its plant. Nor does it question whether some people were sickened and killed, though a definitive number of deaths linked to the vermiculite plant probably will never be known.

But W.R. Grace denies any kind of conspiracy. In fact, the company says, it acted responsibly and took appropriate steps.

In a statement when the indictment was issued in 2005, W.R. Grace said it "categorically denies any criminal wrongdoing." That statement came before the company launched a series of legal challenges that went as far as the U.S. Supreme Court.

In response to questions from CNN, W.R. Grace said at the time that it was acting as a good corporate citizen and had voluntarily paid millions of dollars in medical bills for 900 Libby residents.

Both sides are now respecting the request of U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy that they not speak to the media.

In the courtroom, defense attorneys have noted that the asbestos problem dates back to about 1920 -- long b
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