Seattle P-I Folds, and with it, a Watchdog of Western Asbestos Reporting

By Beacon Staff

First, <a href="http://www.rockymountainnews.com/news/2009/feb/26/rocky-mountain-news-closes-friday-final-edition/" title="the Rocky Mountain News“>the Rocky Mountain News, now the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Two of the West’s oldest daily newspapers have folded. The P-I will move to an online-only format and stay in its current building on the Seattle waterfront. Its staff will be greatly reduced, but the iconic blue globe will keep spinning, for now.

And while few here will lose sleep over the the P-I’s demise, Western Montana is indebted to its efforts. Investigative reporter Andrew Schneider broke the story of the asbestos poisoning in Libby, and 10 years later is still following the W.R. Grace criminal trial on his blog.

The P-I’s special report, “Uncivil Action,” is a testament to what journalism does right. And I doubt, without Schneider’s dogged reporting, the tragedy in Libby would be exposed for what it was – not just corporate indifference to human life, but a government unwilling or unable to stop it. Schneider’s lead on his story in November, 1999, titled “A town left to die”:

LIBBY, Mont. – First, it killed some miners.

Then it killed wives and children, slipping into their homes on the dusty clothing of hard-working men.

Now the mine is closed, but in Libby, the killing goes on.

The W.R. Grace Co. knew, from the time it bought the Zonolite vermiculite mine in 1963, why the people in Libby were dying.

But for the 30 years it owned the mine, the company did not stop it.

Neither did the governments.

Not the town of Libby, not Lincoln County. Not the state of Montana, not federal mining, health and environmental agencies, not anyone else charged with protecting the public health.

Over the next several months, Schneider would continue to file stories from Libby. He then widened his investigation and wrote on asbestos exposure in his home state of Washington. While Schneider will continue to keep a watchful eye on the W.R. Grace criminal trial in Missoula through his blog, his Monday post was still disheartening:

Tonight, the paper prints its final edition, which means I won’t be able to write about the outcome of the W.R. Grace criminal trial for the newspaper that first revealed what happened to Libby and its people.

And that’s a shame.

Schneider also wrote a book on the asbestos poisoning in Libby called “An Air That Kills”

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