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W.R. Grace Charged in Asbestos Case
By James Vicini, Reuters, February 7, 2005
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - W.R. Grace & Co. and seven current or former executives were charged on Monday with conspiring to endanger residents in Libby, Montana, and then concealing the health risks from asbestos-contaminated vermiculite, the U.S. Justice Department said.
The 10-count indictment charged the defendants with conspiracy, clean-air act violations, wire fraud and obstruction of justice involving asbestos-related diseases linked to its former vermiculite mining and processing operations.
Grace, a specialty chemicals company currently in bankruptcy proceedings, operated the vermiculite mine from 1963 to 1990, and it continued processing operations until 1992.
The vermiculite, with uses that included insulation, was contaminated with a form of asbestos known as tremolite.
According to the indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Montana, Grace spread the asbestos throughout the community to such locations as commercial buildings and schools, including an outdoor ice skating rink, school running tracks and baseball fields.
Grace was named in all 10 counts. If convicted, it could face fines of hundreds of millions of dollars, a Justice Department official said.
Under the law, a company can be fined for up to twice the gain for activities associated with its criminal conduct, the official said. The indictment said Grace reaped more than $140 million in profits from asbestos-contaminated vermiculite.
According to the indictment, the conspiracy began in 1976 and continued until 2002. The conspirators knowingly released asbestos into the air, placing at risk families of Grace employees and area residents.
"It was a purpose of the conspiracy to increase profits and avoid liability by misleading the government and preventing the government from using its authorities to protect against risks to human health and the environment," the indictment said.
A Grace representative said the company was preparing a statement on the charges. (additional reporting by Tim Dobbyn)