W.R. Grace maintains it has always been frank about the dangers of asbestos. Former workers and union leaders disagree. They say Grace didn't come clean with its workers until 1979, 16 years after it bought the mine.
Earl Lovick, who
managed the Libby mine until 1983, testified in a Feb. 17, 1988,
deposition that he told his men very little about the health
dangers of asbestos. Lovick's career with Grace began in 1946. In
1969, he was diagnosed with asbestosis. He died in
"The workers were never notified of any
medical problems of any employees of whatever kind," Lovick
testified. "That's not something that is generally broadcast."
More damning are company memos on Richard Irons.
Irons practiced medicine in Libby from 1977 to 1985, and served as
public-health officer for Lincoln County from 1978 to 1984. During
his tenure in Libby, Irons became curious as he ran into cases of
mesothelioma, a rare lung cancer. His suspicions deepened when
Grace refused to take more than one chest X-ray per worker to
screen for abnormalities.
"We continued to ask
(W.R. Grace's) Dr. Little as well as the company when they would do
second films that would allow us to see better what these markings
might represent," Irons said.
flew to Grace headquarters in Cambridge, Mass., to propose a
mesothelioma study in Lincoln County. "I was critical of what was
being done," he said, "because I was very aware that more could be
done." Grace never approved the study. Mine manager Lovick
testified he couldn't "ever recall discussing lung cancers in Libby
with Dr. Irons."
Irons seemed to have made a
stronger impression on Harry Eschenbach, Grace's director of
Health, Safety and Toxicology at the time. "Irons is 'turning the
screw,' " Eschenbach wrote in a 1979 letter. "We either play the
game his way or he is going to blow the whistle."
A meeting with Irons in Libby seemed to ease
Eschenbach's fears, as he wrote, "In summary, I think it best that
we just let Irons sit and meditate for a while."