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Federal judge dismisses criminal charge against WR Grace in asbestos case

[JURIST] A federal judge has granted a defense request to dismiss a criminal charge [indictment, PDF] that W.R. Grace & Co. [corporate website] and its executives knowingly endangered miners and residents of Libby, Montana [city website] by concealing health risks from asbestos contained in vermiculite [EPA backgrounder]. Chief US District Judge Donald Malloy [official profile] of the District of Montana [official website] ruled in an order [text, PDF] dated last week that the charge is barred by a federal statute of limitations [text]. The defendants argued, and Malloy agreed, that the indictment does not allege an "overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy" within the five-year period. Malloy considered the motion to dismiss even though it was filed three months after a court deadline because "the government throughout much of the case has been a step slow in complying with its discovery obligations."

Grace and the seven executives were indicted by a grand jury [JURIST report] on conspiracy charges in February 2005. Prosecutors allege that hundreds of people in Libby have been sickened by exposure to asbestos from Grace's vermiculite mine, and some have died. In December, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld [JURIST report] an order that Grace pay the Environmental Protection Agency [official website] $54.5 million to clean up the closed mine, which has been declared a Superfund site [EPA backgrounder]. A trial in the criminal case [court materials] is scheduled for September. AP has more.

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