Emotional Testimony by Witness Begins Grace Trial

Trial proceedings on Wednesday, March 5, 2009, in the criminal trial for W.R. Grace were hallmarked by an emotional testimony from an asbestos victim and a physician who had diagnosed thousands of asbestos-related diseases in the people of Libby, Montana.
The trial opened on March 5, 2009, when asbestos victim Lerah Parker testified as a witness in the W.R. Grace and Co. criminal trial. Her testimony went unquestioned by the defense attorneys for Grace, unlike other witnesses in the trial, but the submission of photographs of her property were largely objected to by the defense attorneys. Only one picture was allowed to be seen by the jury; it showed large dust clouds of vermiculite asbestos surrounding her property where she had lived for six years. Before she acquired the property for her home and tree nursery and mushroom farm business, it was an abandoned part of the W.R. Grace asbestos mine property. She claimed that by living on the property, both she and her husband were exposed to asbestos from the mine and now they both suffer from asbestos-related diseases.

Later that day, Dr. Alan Whitehouse was extensively cross-examined by the defense after he testified to the more than 1,800 cases of asbestos-related diseases he diagnosed. Dr. Whitehouse claimed that all of his patients contracted their diseases by inhaling the asbestos fibers in the town of Libby, Montana, near Grace’s vermiculite asbestos mine. According to Dr. Whitehouse, the breakdown of those in Libby with asbestos-related diseases was in three main groups: former mine employees, immediate family members of mine employees, and Libby residents with no exposure to asbestos through their work. Of these three groups, the innocent residents of the town without occupational inhalation of asbestos make up 50 percent of the total number of those afflicted with diseases from asbestos. The groups of former mine employees and their family members were each a fourth of the sickened.

According to Whitehouse, mesothelioma affects people at a higher rate in Libby, Montana, than anywhere else in the United States.

The trial recessed at the end of the day to resume the following Monday, March 16, 2009.