Kimm Copeland, a Libby, Montana resident who traveled to Missoula almost every day to sit in the courtroom and observe the trial of W. R. Grace, received some disappointing news this afternoon.
W. R. Grace and three former executives were found not guilty on all counts against them today in the conclusion of one of the most controversial environmental trials in US history.
Charges against the company, which operated a vermiculite mine in Copeland’s native Libby, and former company execs included obstruction of justice and conspiracy. The company was also charged with issuing false statement to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Vermiculite mined at the Grace facility in Libby was known to be contaminated with asbestos, and the company allegedly went to great lengths to conceal this information. Grace officials reportedly told EPA that the vermiculite mined at their facility contained less than one percent asbestos – the legal limit as put forth by environmental regulations – when it in fact contained higher levels.
EPA officials were also denied access to three Grace-owned sites, all of which were known to be contaminated with asbestos. The company also sold land to the city of Libby without disclosing information about asbestos contamination on that property.
For years, residents had no idea how dangerous their town really was.
A physician who testified against W. R. Grace told the jury that he continues to diagnose Libby residents with asbestos-caused diseases on a regular basis.
When asked about his fellow Libby residents, Copeland said “Murder is murder. A lot of these people have died and are still dying.”
Copeland was hopeful that the jury would return a guilty verdict because they were “Montanans,” and would make the right decision in support of the town of Libby.
Copeland grew up playing sports on a field next to the Grace vermiculite mine, and ran on an asbestos-laden track belonging to the Libby high school. He suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and has pleural plaque in his lungs, a condition which often leads to pleural mesothelioma.
Asbestos is a known carcinogen, and causes a number of fatal diseases, including lung cancer and mesothelioma.
A court reporter for the Missoulian newspaper named Tristan Scott was among the first to reveal the not guilty verdicts via Twitter.