Prosecution Almost Over in Libby Asbestos Trial

Blogger Andrew Schneider and other reporters covering the W.R. Grace & Co. federal court criminal trial in Missoula, Mont., expect the prosecution to rest its case early this week. The University of Montana law and journalism schools' blog and Schneider's blog both say one or two more witnesses are all the prosecution expects to call to testfiy.

Grace and five former managers are charged in the case being tried in U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy's court with knowingly exposing the community of Libby, Mont., to asbestos and related diseases. Grace operated a vermiculite mine and mill in Libby from 1963 until 1990.

The trial began in late February and was expected to last three months. Molloy has criticized the prosecutors' case from the bench and upheld many Grace defense motions, according to the bloggers and reports published by the Missoulian, a local newspaper.

Grace's Libby Issues & Answers online page denies the company conspired to keep critical scientific information about the asbestos dangers from the federal government or the state of Montana. A Libby Timeline linked from the page says the company was "unaware of the extent of hazards of mining and milling vermiculite" when it bought Zonolite Co., the mine's owner, in 1963 and that Grace was requiring respirators to be worn in most parts of the mill as of 1967, when the Libby mineworkers' union filed the first asbestosis claim. The first Montana State Board of Health survey to identify tremolite asbestos in the vermiculite dust was produced in 1961, according to the timeline. Grace's defense lawyers maintain the company is being accused of conspiring to violate a law, the Clean Air Act, that was enacted years after most of the releases occurred.

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