Opening Statements Monday in Libby Asbestos Case

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – Trial is beginning in a federal criminal case over asbestos releases that are blamed for killing hundreds of people and sickening thousands of others in or near the northwest Montana town of Libby.

Attorneys for the U.S. government and for defendant W.R. Grace and Company will make their opening statements Monday morning in U.S. District Court in Missoula, Montana.

Grace, which has headquarters in Columbia, Maryland, and five of its former executives were charged in 2005 with knowingly exposing workers to asbestos at a vermiculite mine in Libby from 1976 to 1990, and hampering a federal investigation of the pollution.

Lawyers for area residents contend that more than 200 people have died and some 2,000 people have been sickened as a result.

If convicted, the executives could face up to 15 years in prison and fines totaling millions of dollars, and the company could face fines totaling millions.