It’s getting harder to sue huge corporations for contaminating entire communities

There were people who thought that improper judicial rulings tainted the 2009 criminal trial of W.R. Grace for the alleged environmental atrocities it inflicted on the people of Libby, Mont.

After the three-month-long trial resulted in Grace and three of its former executives being acquitted of all charges, law professors, federal investigators and even some lawyers paid by Grace, said the highly questionable actions of the federal judge in the case – including preventing most of the prosecution’s witnesses from testifying – would never be matched, let alone exceeded.

A view of the Monsanto plant in Nitro in 1980. Gazette file photo

Apparently, the scales of impartiality that Justitia, the Roman goddess of Justice, holds high, has again be tipped in favor of an enormous chemical company over those sickened or endangered from living nearby.

According the latest story by Ken Ward, the outstanding environmental reporter for the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette, decisions by two local judges sitting in another controversial trial issued rulings that stymied the hopes of people in another chemical company town to get the justice they sought after decades of being poisoned.

In Libby, it was asbestos from the Grace vermiculite mine that killed hundreds, sickened thousands and contaminated a large part of a county in Northwestern Montana. In West Virginia, the town is Nitro, the chemical company is Monsanto and the poison was dioxin or 2,4,5-T.  Also called Agent Orange, which was the chemical brew which destroyed the lives of thousands of GIs and civilians exposed to it during the Vietnam War.

Ward, who has dauntlessly fought allegations of corporate wrong-doing for decades, wrote that “dioxin has been linked to cancer, birth defects, learning disabilities, endometriosis, infertility, and suppressed immune functions.”

His story, published on Sunday, will have many of those who followed the Grace federal trial in Montana shaking their heads at the similarities of how justice is administered.

David Uhlmann was the Justice Department’s top prosecutor of environmental crimes when the Grace case went to trial.

“There’s never been a case where so many people were sickened or killed by environmental crime,” he said about the charges against Grace at the time.

After the trial, the worldwide chemical company and its top managers were declared innocent of having knowingly exposed mine workers and residents of Libby to asbestos, Uhlmann said  “There is no doubt that it will become even more difficult to bring complex charges against major corporations.”

According to Ward’s newest story, Uhlmann is correct and that difficulty is being played out now in yet another courtroom.





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