Missoula, MT–Government prosecutors called their final witness after more than two months of testimony for the W.R. Grace & Co. trial. The environmental crimes case will not stop until a federal judge rules on various pending legal waverings.
Assistant United States Attorney Kris McLean said, “I don’t feel like we can technically rest until those motions have been decided.”
A former assistant surgeon general, Dr. Richard Lemen, served as the conclusion to the government’s case, which aimed to prove that manufacturing firm Grace and five of its former executives knew about asbestos danger, yet still endangered the community of Libby, Montana by letting it be released.
Lemen reported to jurors that asbestos-containing vermiculite, taken from Libby-area mines for decades by local workers, posed a huge danger to not only the mine employees but also the general public because of exposure.
“My opinion is that there is an imminent risk,” Lemen said.
Asbestos is a known carcinogen that is released once its fibers are damaged, through mining, manufacturing, renovation or demolition. They are inhaled and become lodged in the outer linings of major organs, where they cause deadly diseases such as pleural disease and mesothelioma. Symptoms usually arise only decades later, at which point the diseases are virtually incurable.
The poisonous fibers were used throughout the community for a number of purposes.
“Because the materials were so widely spread out—being put on things such as the high school track, being used in gardens, being used as covering roads, being used for playgrounds, being used for multiple purposes throughout the community—there was a very widespread distribution of this material throughout the community,” Lemen said. “The more pathways they’re exposed to, the greater the accumulations of this material in their bodies.”
Lemen reportedly has testified for numerous government hearings, being paid $350 an hour. He approximates that he has made $38,000 on the Grace case.
The United States District Judge, Donald Molloy, warns lawyers to be prepared to argue the possible 55 exhibits on Tuesday morning. The next full day in the trial is scheduled to occur on or around April 28, when the first witness will be called by the defense.