Engineer Ran Track to Test for Asbestos at High School

MISSOULA, Montana—A former W.R. Grace & Co. environmental engineer ran laps for half an hour while wearing an asbestos monitoring device. Randy Geiger said he did this in order to collect asbestos-tainted air samples at Libby’s high school track. The Missoulian newspaper reported Geiger’s testimony Monday in the Grace environmental crimes trial in Missoula on their website.
Geiger informed the jurors that he and his wife set up the sampling project, which he performed once he knew that Grace had donated its waste from the Libby vermiculite mine in order to create the base layer of the running track.

“I didn’t have a lot of time to come up with a method,” Geirger said. “I can remember putting on my track shoes from my high school days and going out. I was in front and my wife was behind me and I tried to kick up a little dust.”

Geiger ran for a half hour and wore an air pump around his “breathing zone.” He then submitted the test results to a lab, where researchers discovered high concentrations of harmful asbestos fibers. Grace supervisors then asked Geiger to submit a number on how much it would cost to abate the asbestos or replace the track all together. Blacktop was paved over the asbestos in 1981.

The Columbia, Maryland-based chemical and building materials company, in addition to five former company executives, is being charged with a federal conspiracy involving Clean Air Act violations and obstruction of justice.

United States District Judge Donald Molloy asked jurors not to take Geiger’s statements as absolute proof of the asbestos exposure. Since criminal provisions to the Clean Air Act did not exist until 1990, Molloy warned, this testimony was only relevant to whether or not Grace lied about its knowledge regarding the hazards of asbestos in Libby.

Various mine workers also testified, including Leroy Thom, who began working for Grace in 1974. He said that even after the mine closed in 1990, there was an excess of vermiculite material being offered to the public, and that he personally hauled some to his home to use in his garden.