Bush's Love Affair with Asbestos
[Posted 18 February 2005]
Yesterday, Congress passed legislation to discourage class-action lawsuits by
moving many of them to Federal courts. The Senate had already passed the same
legislation, and so it merely awaits Bush's signature to become law.
Bush announced the legislation earlier in the month, just after a Federal indictment
against a Montana mine was made public on February 7th. In that particular case,
people actually DIED from asbestos exposure, with many more having cancer and
Bush specifically mentioned asbestos when claiming that class actions were often
"frivolous" lawsuits. Asbestos? FRIVOLOUS? Well, if Bush thinks asbestos is so
safe, why doesn't he eat it for BREAKFAST? Asbestos is a deadly, deadly and
carcinogen. They don't put out the big bucks to remove it from schools for nothing.
People have already DIED from the stuff in Montana -- how "frivolous"
is dying? Of course, to a Bush brain, as long as OTHER people die, it's frivolous.
As long as they personally don't have to die, it's OK.
In actuality, asbestos might be an excuse, but looming larger is the Celebrex/Vioxx
scandal. Bush's father, "Poppy" Bush as he prefers to be called, has invested
heavily in drug companies. Obviously he doesn't want big lawsuits threatening
pharmaceutical profits. So it's likely that asbestos was just a smokescreen by a
heartless man to conceal his real motives. Even so, the Montana case could use some
review. You can do your own google search, but for now the following link provides
some good information:
http://abcnews.go.com/Business/wireStory?id=479676 (from Associated Press)
MISSOULA, Mont. Feb 7, 2005 -- W.R. Grace and Co. and seven high-ranking employees knew a Montana mine was releasing cancer-causing asbestos into the air and tried to hide the danger to workers and townspeople, according to a federal indictment unsealed Monday [7 February 2005]. More than 1,200 people became ill, and some of them died, prosecutors said.
The asbestos was naturally present in a vermiculite mine operated by Grace in the small town of Libby for nearly 30 years.
The federal grand jury said that top Grace executives and managers kept secret numerous studies spelling out the risk the cancer-causing asbestos posed to its customers, employees and Libby residents.
The indictment also accused Grace and Alan Stringer, former manager of the now-closed mine, of trying to obstruct efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate the extent of the asbestos contamination beginning in 1999, when a study by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer linked asbestos from the mine to nearly 200 deaths and hundreds of illnesses.
The newspaper's study was based on interviews with doctors in several states.
The EPA, which has never disputed the findings of the study, has since declared the area a Superfund site and has spent more than $55 million on cleanup so far.
"A human and environmental tragedy has occurred in Libby. This prosecution seeks to hold Grace and some of its executives responsible for the misconduct alleged in this indictment," Bill Mercer, the U.S. attorney for Montana, said at a news conference in Missoula.
Lori Hanson, a special agent with the Environmental Protection Agency, called the allegations against Grace and its executives "one of the most significant environmental indictments in our history."
Asbestos contamination in Libby came to light in 1999 after national news reports first linked the pollution from a nearby vermiculite mine to the deaths and illnesses of area residents. The vermiculite ore was used in a number of household products, most notably a common home insulation. The ore, however, contained naturally occurring tremolite asbestos, a carcinogen.
The EPA began its investigation shortly after news of the asbestos-related deaths became public. Since then, the agency declared the area a Superfund site and has spent more than $55 million on cleanup so far.
Grace has appealed a federal judge's ruling that it must repay the EPA that entire amount for cleanup. That dispute is ongoing.
In addition to the company and Stringer, those named in the indictment are Henry Eschenbach, former health official for a Grace subsidiary; Jack Wolter, a former executive for Grace's construction products division; William McCaig, former general manager of the Libby mine; Robert Bettacchi, a senior vice president of Grace; O. Mario Favorito, chief legal counsel for Grace; and Robert Walsh, former Grace vice president.
The company could face a fine of up to $280 million, twice the amount of after-tax profits the government alleges W.R. Grace realized from the Libby mine, according to the Justice Department.
Stringer could be sentenced to as many as 70 years in prison, while Wolter and Bettacchi face maximum prison terms of 55 years. The other defendants could get 5 years in prison.
Les Skramstad, a Libby resident and former mine worker who was diagnosed with asbestosis nine years ago, said he was pleased criminal charges had finally been filed.
"This wasn't something that happened to us. This was something that was done to us," said Skramstad, who attended Monday's news conference.
Skramstad, 68, said he worked in the mine for 2 1/2 years and believes he not only contracted asbestosis there, but brought home asbestos fibers that also sickened his wife and two children.
All of them now have asbestosis, Skramstad said.
"They should have to pay," Skramstad said of the defendants. "They will never have to pay like we did, because it won't cost them their lives."
The government claims that not only did the defendants keep secret the health dangers posed by the vermiculite mined at Libby, they hampered federal government efforts to protect the public from such risks.
As early as 1976, the company knew of lung health problems among its employees at the mine, according to the indictment.
Grace executives also had reports or studies warning of the dangers of asbestos vermiculite exposure in 1977, 1980, 1981, 1982, the indictment alleged. At one point, it said, Eschenbach responded to one of the studies by writing in a memo: "Our major problem is death from respiratory cancer. This is no surprise."
Despite having that information, the indictment said, Grace officials told the EPA in 1983 that there was no indication their products posed a substantial threat to human health.
The company, knowing of the dangers from its product, provided vermiculite for a junior high school running track and as a base for an ice rink, the indictment said. It said Grace also sold or leased some of its contaminated properties to local residents for homes and businesses, for baseball fields and for city use.
When the EPA arrived in 1999, company officials lied about providing vermiculite insulation to local residents for their homes and businesses and failed to reveal the vermiculite was used on the school's running track, the Justice Department said.
As late as April 2002, in response to the EPA declaring a public health emergency in Libby, the company still insisted its vermiculite was not a risk to the environment and human health, the indictment said...
Oh yes, a possible fine of $280 million, 70 years in prison, 200 deaths,
ill after only working in a
mine for 2 & 1/2 years, death by respiratory cancer... Asbestos is ever so
"frivolous"... to men like George W. Bush.
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