Montana Jury Acquits W.R. Grace & Co. and Three Former Officials of Criminal Charges for Violations of the Clean Air Act
On May 8, 2009, a federal jury in Montana unanimously found the W.R. Grace & Co. and three former officials, two executives and a former industrial hygienist and Director of Health, Safety and Toxicology, not guilty of criminal charges related to alleged Clean Air Act violations. In the case, United States of America v. W.R. Grace, et al., prosecutors alleged that W.R. Grace & Co. and the three former officials violated the Clean Air Act by knowingly exposing residents of Libby, Montana to asbestos released from the company’s vermiculite mine. Federal prosecutors initially accused W.R. Grace & Company and the former executives of exposing the approximately 100,000 residents of Libby, Montana to asbestos while operating the vermiculite mine, ultimately resulting in 200 deaths and 2,000 illnesses. Vermiculite ore removed from the mine contained tremolite asbestos which is linked to asbestos-related illnesses including malignant mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis.
According to the eight count indictment filed in 2005 in the United States District Court for the District of Montana, Missoula Division, the company and executives were accused of conspiracy, violations of the Clean Air Act, and obstruction of justice. The indictment alleged that W.R. Grace conspired to “knowingly release” asbestos and attempted to cover-up the dangers of inhalation of asbestos fibers from company employees and residents of Libby, Montana. The indictment also alleged that W.R. Grace & Co. attempted to impair and frustrate a 1999 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency investigation of the vermiculite mine.
This case covered activities that took place over a 40-year period. Over three million documents were involved. This case illustrates the difficulty of proving charges of intentional violations involving complex technical issues.