Contentious cross-examination continues
Cross-examination of Dr. Aubrey Miller by the defense counsel, David Bernick, resumed this afternoon as Bernick sought to discredit Miller and the Environmental Protection Agency by showing statements and internal documents dating from 2000 and 2001, early in the cleanup, that appeared to contradict statements made by Miller more recently.
These included a letter from EPA on-site coordinator Paul Peronard to a realty company based in Libby, which stated that they had found no asbestos concentration in the ambient air in Libby outside of the vicinity of the vermiculite processing area, and that there was “to date no risk” of exposure through that pathway.
The questioning quickly became contentious.
At one point, Bernick displayed a document titled “Draft Conceptual Site Model,” then asked Miller if this was the Draft Conceptual Site Model. As people in the gallery chuckled, Miller thought about his answer for a moment, then replied, “That’s what it says.”
It was a refrain that continued until the afternoon recess. As Bernick repeatedly asked Miller to confirm information about a number of the prosecution’s demonstrative exhibits, Miller would reply the same way.
Bernick claimed that none of the demonstrative exhibits shown to the jury described actual risk, which takes into consideration units of exposure over time, as opposed to simple exposure levels. He then went further, asserting that the EPA has never done “a full, formalized, scientific risk assessment” in Libby.
He claimed that because the EPA had declared Libby an emergency cleanup situation, they were able to get funds without doing a comprehensive study.
Bernick then asserted the EPA had not informed people whose properties were on the cleanup list that they specifically were in an emergency situation that would require them to leave their homes. He referred to Mel and Lerah Parker, who testified last week, claiming that there was a gap of several months between the completion of an EPA exposure assessment at their property and the time when they left the property, in June of 2000.
“When it came to the Parkers, the EPA didn’t tell them to move off the former screening plant property right away, did they?” Bernick asked.
“I don’t think we understood … the risk to the Parkers until several months later,” Miller replied. “We moved them off the property as soon as possible.”
Returning later to the same point, Bernick hammered Miller with questions about the EPA’s communication with Libby residents, summoning the image of Mel Parker working in the garden on their property near the former screening plant without a respirator after the EPA’s sampling study was completed.
“All the people who were still living in areas that were on the emergency cleaning list … did you tell them that there was an emergency?” Bernick asked.
“I never told them that specifically, no,” Miller replied. “We told them not to disturb [the vermiculite] … we told them there was an emergency cleanup going on in the town.”
With time running out before the afternoon recess, Bernick focused his questions on the presence of vermiculite and tremolite in the soils of Libby before the mine, and claimed that no epidemiological study has observed the causation of disease at the Permissible Exposure Level (PEL).
Bernick’s questioning of Miller will resume after the break.
–Daniel Doherty (posted 3:31)