Grace Defense Puts Medical Expert in Hot Seat

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – The lead defense counsel for W.R. Grace & Co. tried to blunt a medical expert’s influence on jurors Wednesday by casting doubt on the witness’ credibility and scientific methodology.

Dr. Aubrey Miller underwent an intense cross-examination by attorney David Bernick, one day after giving a sweeping assessment of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s arrival and response to Libby’s deadly asbestos contamination.

The Missoulian newspaper reported Wednesday’s proceedings on its Web site.

Bernick sought to undermine Miller’s expertise and pointed to discrepancies in his scientific analysis. He also accused Miller and the EPA of covering up data that was unfavorable to the prosecution’s case.

Bernick implied that Miller’s testimony greatly exaggerated the risks that asbestos posed to Libby residents. The lawyer introduced EPA documents stating that no hazards existed to people simply breathing Libby’s ambient air.

In one letter to a concerned real estate developer, the EPA’s onsite coordinator, Paul Peronard, wrote: “I have seen no evidence to indicate there is any risk of exposure to asbestos fibers simply by breathing the outdoor air in Libby.”

At issue in the Montana trial is whether Columbia, Md.-based Grace and five one-time company officials knew they were endangering the community of Libby by mining asbestos-laced ore, and whether they did so in violation of federal law.

Asbestos has sickened about 2,000 Libby residents and caused more than 200 deaths, according to attorneys for the residents.

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