Government begins direct examination of expert witness
Toxicologist Aubrey Miller took the witness stand Tuesday as the government continued to build the core of its case against W.R. Grace and the five executives and supervisors on trial. A juror whose illness Monday delayed the trial was back in the jury box on Tuesday.
Miller, a toxicologist and occupational health specialist for the federal government, focused on building an understanding about asbestos and asbestos-related diseases. Miller discussed several factors that determine if an individual is likely to contract an asbestos-related disease.
“One factor is the time you get exposed. The earlier you’re exposed, the longer you have to exhibit the disease,” Miller said. “Asbestos fibers, when they get into your lungs, they don’t dissipate. As you keep breathing in asbestos, your dose goes up. The fibers are scarring the lungs. That’s called asbestosis. As exposures increase, you begin to show signs of it,” he said.
In November 1999, Miller, along with Dr. Christopher Weis, responded to articles in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer about asbestos contamination in Libby. While in Libby, Miller said he, Weis and Paul Peronard, the EPA’s on-scene coordinator, spoke with local officials to assess the situation
Miller said he was surprised at what he saw. He had seen a lot of cases of asbestos disease before and anticipated that the newspaper reporter had exaggerated.
“It was hard to imagine this disease so widespread outside the workplace,” Miller said.
Miller’s focus, while in Libby on his initial visit, was to examine the public health in the community to see if the claims about non-occupational illness were true. While in Libby, Miller said he met with Gayla Benefield and spoke with her about her mother Margaret Vatland. Miller said he took an interest in this case because Vatland was not a worker.
“To see someone who had died of asbestos related disease who was not a worker was unheard of,” Miller said.
Miller said he also had the opportunity to tour Libby and visit the mine site, lumber mill and the screening plant during his visit.
–Kalie Tenenbaum, 10:55 a.m.
Posted: March 10th, 2009 under News.