Charges Issued Over Asbestos at a Mine
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: February 8, 2005
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MISSOULA, Mont., Feb. 7 (AP) - W. R. Grace and seven senior employees were
accused in a federal indictment on Monday of knowingly exposing miners and
residents in a small town to asbestos.
More than 1,200 people became ill, and some of them died, prosecutors said.
The asbestos was naturally present in a vermiculite mine operated by Grace
in Libby for nearly 30 years.
Prosecutors say asbestos fibers released by the mining sickened miners, as
well as residents of the town.
The vermiculite was used in household products like insulation.
The grand jury said top executives and managers kept secret numerous studies
that spelled out the risks that the carcinogenic asbestos posed to
customers, employees and residents.
The indictment accused Grace and the mine manager, Alan Stringer, of trying
to obstruct the Environmental Protection Agency in its investigation of the
contamination, beginning in 1999, when news reports linked the mine, which
has closed, to asbestos poisoning. The environmental agency has declared the
mine a Superfund site and has spent more than $55 million to clean it up.
The company, based in Columbia, Md., did not comment on the charges. It said
in October that it was under investigation.
The indictment also named Robert Bettacchi, a senior Grace vice president;
Henry Eschenbach, a former health official for a Grace subsidiary; O. Mario
Favorito, chief legal counsel for Grace; William McCaig, former general
manager of the mine; Robert Walsh, a former Grace vice president; and Jack
Wolter, a former executive in the Grace construction products division.
The Justice Department said the company could face a fine of $280 million,
double the sum of after-tax profits that it made from the mine.
Mr. Stringer could be sentenced to 70 years in prison, and Mr. Wolter and
Mr. Bettacchi face up to 55 years. The other defendants could be given five
years in prison.