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7th, final W.R. Grace exec pleads innocent

7th, final W.R. Grace exec pleads innocent

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MISSOULA - The final W.R. Grace and Co. executive indicted last month was arraigned in Missoula federal court Tuesday.

William J. McCaig pleaded not guilty to one count of conspiracy before U.S. Magistrate Judge Leif Erickson.

According to the indictment, McCaig and six other W.R. Grace executives conspired to release asbestos into the air and knowingly place employees of the company, family members of employees and residents of Libby and the surrounding communities in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury.

If found guilty, McCaig faces five years' imprisonment, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release.

The indictment alleges the seven executives purposely attempted to defraud "the United States and others by impairing, impeding and frustrating the governmental functions of the United States including the United States Environmental Protection Agency."

The indictment states it was the purpose of the conspiracy to conceal and misrepresent the hazardous nature of the tremolite asbestos contained in vermiculite from the Libby mine, thereby enriching W.R. Grace.

"It was a purpose of the conspiracy to increase profits and avoid liability by misleading the government and preventing the government from using its authorities to protect against risks to human health and the environment associated with the manufacture, processing, distribution commerce, use, handling, disposal and release of tremolite asbestos contaminated vermiculite," the indictment states.

Airborne exposure to tremolite asbestos can scar the lungs, making it increasingly difficult to breath, and cause the disease known as "asbestosis," which can result in severe disability and death. The rate of asbestosis mortality in Libby is 40 to 80 times higher than expected when compared to rates for Montana and the United States, the indictment states.

The other six executives were arraigned Feb. 22 and also pleaded not guilty. Because McCaig's lawyer had a conflicting court date, McCaig was allowed to be arraigned later.

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