Miller: Libby asbestos still a health risk
Dr. Aubrey K. Miller’s opinion concluded the Tuesday afternoon session of the W.R. Grace trial: Asbestos exposure in the Libby, Mont. “community… pose(d) a clear danger then, and it still does now. It’s an imminent danger.”
Miller’s conclusion came at the end of a long day of testimony by the public health expert witness. Miller considered a multitude of studies and figures, analyzing the correlation between asbestos exposure rates in people and its effect on the human body.
In the late afternoon Miller, a toxicologist and occupational health specialist for the federal government, compared a 1984 study of Ohio workers with vermiculite exposure to Libby workers and residents. Miller said the findings in Ohio were similar to what he discovered in Libby.
Miller explained how both studies incorporated an “estimate of total exposure over time.”
Based on the data, he concluded that even people exposed to extremely low levels of asbestos can develop asbestos-related diseases if that exposure is over a long time. The Libby study showed very high rates of asbestosis and elevations of lung cancer in the area, Miller said.
As the day neared an end, Miller offered another study with, in his mind, pertinent information for the trial. Assistant U.S. attorney Kris McLean stopped him.
“I think we’re tired of asking about studies,” McLean said.
After an objection by the defense was overruled by Judge Donald Molloy, McLean asked the question the government had been building momentum toward all day: Did Miller believe the asbestos levels constituted a health risk?
“The asbestos seen in Libby is clearly hazardous,” Miller said. “It was shown to cause asbestos related diseases in workers … and the community.”
The illnesses “expand a range, and anyone exposed to it has propensity for a disease,” including people with low exposure rates, Miller said.
A critical point Miller emphasized during this part of the testimony was that exposure to asbestos is not easy to care for or prevent. He used the example of a fast-acting acid, which you can see, smell and feel.
“It’s an uncontrolled release, that’s the problem,” Miller said when asked to explain why the danger was ‘imminent.’ “People can interact with it. It’s a cumulative effect, where fibers go in lungs … causing a disease to occur over time.”
When Dr. Miller was finished with his expert opinion Molloy dismissed the witness until 8:30 Wednesday morning, when the cross-examination of Miller by the defense is scheduled to begin.
Molloy also instructed lawyers for W.R. Grace that on Wedensday he will not allow any “tag-teaming” of the witness by the defense. Each lawyer will have to pick out areas to cross-examine and stick to it, the judge cautioned.
–Josh Benham (7:35 P.M.)
Posted: March 10th, 2009 under News.