(CN) – A Montana jury on Friday acquitted W.R. Grace & Co. and three former executives on federal charges that they knowingly exposed residents of Libby, Mont., to asbestos from the company’s vermiculite mine.
Libby residents blamed tremolite asbestos for around 2,000 cases of asbestos-related illnesses and about 225 deaths.
W.R. Grace said it was “gratified” with the jury’s decision to acquit Henry Eschenbach, Jack Wolter and Robert Bettacchi on all charges. Prosecutors dropped charges against two other executives during trial.
“We always believed that Grace and its former executives had acted properly and that a jury would come to the same conclusion when confronted with the evidence,” the company said in a statement.
Prosecutors had argued that W.R. Grace executives knew since the 1970s that the asbestos-laced vermiculate mined outside Libby was poisoning workers and residents of the small town of about 2,600 in northwest Montana.
W.R. Grace sold vermiculite products under the brand name Zonolite, named for the Zonolite Mine where the substance was mined. The company shut down the mine in 1990, after several hundred residents of Libby died or became ill from asbestosis and other asbestos-related diseases.
Defense attorneys tried to get the charges dismissed based on prosecutorial misconduct, but U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy allowed the case to proceed to trial, after chiding the government for charging “a larger case than the one it prepared to prosecute.”