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Unsealed indictment reveals that company hid asbestos risk, hampered investigation

[JURIST] According to a federal indictment [FindLaw PDF] unsealed Monday, W.R. Grace and Co. [corporate website] and seven of its high-ranking officials and managers knew as early as 1976 that a vermiculite mine operated by the company in Montana was releasing asbestos into the air and attempted to conceal the danger from workers and the surrounding community, which prosecutors claim led to more than 1,000 people falling ill and several deaths. Grace, also charged with obstructing government efforts to investigate the site, faces up to $280 million in fines, more than twice its estimated profit from the Libby, Mont., site, while some of the former Grace executives charged could face upwards of 50 years in prison. US Attorney for Montana William Mercer [DOJ profile] described the situation as a "human and environmental tragedy," while EPA [agency website] officials cited the charges as "one of the most significant environmental indictments in our history." Grace filed for bankruptcy in 2001, overcome by asbestos-related lawsuits. The EPA provides a wealth of information about the Superfund site at Libby, Mont. Grace has appealed a federal judge's order that it must repay the costs of cleaning up the site to the EPA, currently around $55 trillion.

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