W.R. Grace fails to block damaging testimony by government medical expert
March 11, 2009 – A top government witness in the W.R. Grace & Co. trial testified yesterday on the continuing asbestos health hazard in Libby, Mont., while W.R. Grace lawyers, who had tried but failed to block his testimony, objected throughout the hearing.
After listening to the physician testify meticulously and at a measured pace set by lead prosecutor Kris McLean, despite more than 60 objections throughout the day by Grace lawyers, it became very clear why the defense wanted the prosecution’s witness gagged.
The witness, Dr. Aubrey Miller, formerly a senior medical officer with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, was part of the EPA’s emergency response team that went into Libby in November 1999, after a series of newspaper articles published by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer revealed the extent of the town’s asbestos contamination.
Dr. Miller, wearing his U.S. Public Health Service Navy dress uniform with the four gold stripes that designate the rank of captain and three rows of assorted medals, recounted his astonishment over meeting Libby residents who were dying from asbestos diseases, but who never worked at the town’s vermiculite mine.
“To see an individual who had died of asbestos-related disease who was not a worker was unheard of,” he said. “I had never seen a case or heard of a case like that,” he told the jury.
Witness: W.R. Grace knew the dangers
Miller, who is now medical adviser for bio-terrorism to the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, identified W.R. Grace correspondence from the 60s, 70s and 80s that showed the company and some of its executives on trial in Missoula were aware of the dangers of the naturally occurring asbestos that permeated Grace’s vermiculite mine in Libby, located in the northwest corner of Montana.
“Grace had information about the asbestos, about the nature of the asbestos to become airborne; and they had information about health effects on their workers,” Miller said. He spent much of Tuesday afternoon talking about the testing of air samples in Libby, which showed “extremely high concentrations” of asbestos fibers.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kris McLean asked Miller his opinion on the health hazards in Libby. Over the objections of defense counsel, the judge allowed the doctor to answer. “Exposure in this community has created not only increased risks, but it’s posed a clear danger to these individuals, and it still does now,” Miller said.
Why is asbestos dangerous?
Government sources estimate that in the next decade more than 35,000 people nationwide will be diagnosed with the deadliest form of asbestos-related cancer, mesothelioma. This disease is most often the result of industrial workplace exposure to asbestos – and usually contracted through employers’ blatant disregard for the health and safety of their workers. That’s why people diagnosed with mesothelioma and their family members have strong cases in court.
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Weitz & Luxenberg has protected the legal rights of workers for 25 years – longer than most law firms in the nation. And in that time the firm's mesothelioma lawyers have won several billion dollars in verdicts and settlements for clients.
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