Libby Asbestos Court Hearing This Week

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – Lawyers are scheduled to hold pretrial arguments this week on what evidence can be presented during next months federal criminal trial against W.R. Grace & Co.

The hearing is scheduled begin Wednesday and last three days.

The case involves public exposure to asbestos in the Libby area, where Grace used to operate a vermiculite mine.

The government alleges the chemical manufacturer and several of its former managers conspired to hide health risks associated with the mine. Grace has denied any criminal wrongdoing.

The trial before U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy is scheduled to start Feb. 19 and last about three months.

Motions and briefs filed in recent months suggest that the defense during this week’s hearings will key in on areas where Molloy has the most discretion. For example, one recent brief tries convincing Molloy to exclude government experts from testifying about a series of indoor air studies and product testing conducted by Grace.

Those studies are critical to the government’s theory that the company and its top executives, through their own product testing, knew about the dangers of asbestos-laced vermiculite.

But defense lawyers argue that, because the studies were conducted indoors, they are irrelevant to a case alleging asbestos contamination across an entire community. Indoor conditions affect asbestos fibers differently than outdoor conditions, the lawyers argue, and so the indoor air studies should be excluded.

Meanwhile, prosecutors will try to prove that experts would normally and reasonably rely on such studies to form scientific opinions about the behaviors of asbestos fibers in a variety of conditions, whether indoors or out.