Attorneys for the U.S. Government asked a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals yesterday to overturn rulings that hurt the government’s criminal case against W.R. Grace and some of its executives for exposing residents of Libby, Montana and others to asbestos from its vermiculite mine.

Residents of Libby and others have developed asbestos-related mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases from exposure to W.R. Grace vermiculite, which is contaminated with asbestos. W.R. Grace and some of its executives are charged with criminal conspiracy and knowing endangerment among other counts, which together could result in sentences of 15 years or longer.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy ruled last year that the government could not submit certain evidence, including data from Grace’s own testing of vermiculite products; an EPA asbestos sampling at Libby; and the results of a peer-reviewed government study of residents in and around Libby.

The judge had also dismissed charges of “knowing endangerment” and accepted Grace’s argument that the government had misidentified the specific kind of asbestos found in the vermiculite.

The government contends that if the judge’s ruling stands, it could have a serious and wide-ranging effect not only on the case against W.R. Grace, but many other criminal and civil cases involving asbestos. Time is also of the essence in prosecuting the trial: one of the government’s witnesses, a Libby activist that fought Grace for years, died in January of asbestos-related mesothelioma, and one of the defendants also recently died of cancer.

W.R. Grace mined vermiculite in the Libby, Montana mine for 30 years.The vermiculite was shipped to over 200 processing and packaging plants throughout the U.S., and was used in the manufacture of home insulation as well as lawn and garden products.

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