W. R. Grace faces stiff federal charges over asbestos at Montana mine

Mining company W. R. Grace & Co. was formally charged yesterday with knowingly exposing mine employees and residents of Libby, Mont., to asbestos and concealing evidence about its potentially dangerous health effects. The indictment marks the closing chapter of what U.S. Attorney Bill Mercer calls “a human and environmental tragedy” in the small mountain town and surrounding area, which have a death rate from asbestosis some 40 to 80 times the national average. The federal charges also accuse Grace executives of conspiring to disrupt and delay investigations by the U.S. EPA and the Department of Health and Human Services. The EPA has spent $86 million in cleanup efforts at the mine site, a nearby processing facility, and surrounding homes, and officials project another $20 million in spending this year alone. For its alleged crimes, Grace may face a $280 million fine, twice the after-tax profits from the mine. “We need to tell corporate America, you need to be held responsible,” said Libby resident Mike Noble.