Here at ThePopTort, we don’t generally discuss criminal cases, but a conspiracy trial that got underway yesterday in Libby, MT touches on significant civil justice issues that have been around for years—so we’ve decided to make an exception.
The New York Times reported yesterday on the case against five former mine executives of the now defunct W.R. Grace & Company, who are accused of knowingly exposing mine workers and their families (among others) to asbestos for decades, resulting in the death or sickening of 1,200 people. The charges are “conspiracy, violating the U.S. Clean Air Act and obstruction of justice,” and follow an incredibly sordid history of asbestos cover ups in this country.
An EPA official called Libby “the worst occupational disaster in the 20th Century.” Libby residents suffer asbestos-related health problems at a rate of 40 to 60 times the national average, according to federal health investigators—and 100 times the national average in asbestos-related cancer.
Tragically, toxic asbestos exposure is anything but new in this country—and a lot of injured people have sought well-deserved compensation for their injuries. And that (perhaps predictably) has led to a flood of corporate-backed legislation aimed at limiting the amount those victims receive. Congress' most recent serious attempt to do this went down to defeat because of its unfairness to victims, like the Libby community. Consumer groups also strongly opposed it.
Typically, these bills have proposed setting up paltry and inadequate trust funds to help compensate “victims,” which tend to be defined as workers exposed to asbestos on the job—not the countless others exposed, such as the children in Libby, MT who got sick after swinging on a rope into piles of the toxic dust at Grace mine’s export plant. Another favorite anti-victim tactic is to limit compensation only to those with full-blown asbestos-related illnesses, despite the fact that such diseases can take decades to reach their deadly peak.
Ultimately, this repugnant war against asbestos victims is still very much underway, especially at the state level. But if the Libby, MT victims stand for anything, it’s that people who continue to be killed or made sick by asbestos deserve fair compensation, and those at fault must be held accountable.