1977 Study Found High Rate of Asbestos Disease

MISSOULA, Montana—Jurors in the W.R. Grace environmental trial heard evidence Thursday that a 1977 chest X-ray study of a group of Libby miners showed a high incidence of asbestos-related disease.

Dr. Daniel Teitelbaum, a toxicologist, oversaw the study commissioned by Grace. The Missoulian newspaper reported his testimony on its Web site.

The X-rays of the Libby group were compared to the X-ray results from a different Grace facility in South Carolina. A 1978 report from Teitelbaum to defendant Henry Eschenbach showed a “high attack rate of asbestos in the Libby Group.”

Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral that is a known carcinogen. This fiber consists of long, thin fibrous crystals and may be mixed with other substances in order to resist heat, electricity and chemical damage. The inhalation of fibers may lead to asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma.

According to the report there was only one clear case of the asbestos disease in South Carolina and a few cases of possible asbestos disease. There are numerous confirmed cases of asbestos disease in Montana.

Teitelbaum testified Thursday that Grace did not follow up on the chest study as recommended by his radiologists.

W.R. Grace, which is based in Columbia, Maryland, and five former company officials were accused of endangering the community of Libby by mining asbestos-laced ore, and doing so in violation of the federal law.

Jurors also heard from Julie Yang, who was employed as a research manager for Grace for 20 years. She now works as a consultant for the company in California.

Yang testified about the various internal studies done to control the amount of asbestos fiber released from the vermiculite material.

The tests illustrated how company officials were learning about the tendency of the vermiculite product to release the asbestos fibers.

“The defendants are trying to control the release of asbestos, and they are learning about the propensity of these materials to release, but whatever they do, they continue to release,” thereby exposing workers and local residents to the dangersous asbestos, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Kris McLean.

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