No rest for the weary Dr. Miller
Dr. Aubrey Miller spent all day Wednesday on the witness stand, fielding questions by defense attorneys who sought to weaken his testimony. Much of the cross-examination of Miller focused on what he knew early on about the Libby situation and how that affected his actions.
Defense attorney David M. Bernick, the lead attorney for W.R. Grace, took the majority of Miller’s time. Bernick repeatedly asked Miller why he didn’t tell Libby residents that their community was in an emergency. Bernick cited internal EPA documents that named Libby an emergency site, and pointed out that funds for EPA work in Libby were granted because of its emergency status and that a risk-assessment test was not done because of the same reason.
Why then, asked Bernick, didn’t the government tell anybody living there?
Miller said they did. But Bernick said the government retained significant information and didn’t act on it, even when federal investigators knew people were living on contaminated land. Miller said the government waited to tell people to move off their land until they knew the extent of contamination and understood where it was worst.
Bernick phrased the question of why the government withheld information and failed to act in different ways, coming at it from different angles and citing specific examples. Miller replied that as the government received additional information on the extent of contamination, the affected parties were informed.
Bernick ended his questioning of Miller by referring to a report by Dr. Patricia Sullivan, and focusing on a figure that correlated low-dose exposures to asbestos with pulmonary disorders. The discussion between Bernick and Miller over the figure focused on whether or not someone exposed to low levels of asbestos had a higher incidence of non-malignant respiratory disorders, and whether the report showed a positive statistical correlation between the two.
Bernick said there was no correlation at certain levels, but Miller said a trend was evident. Bernick said statistical significance is the scientific value that establishes a correlation between cause and effect, and there wasn’t one here. Miller agreed.
That was the end of Bernick’s cross-examination. Defense attorney Thomas Frongillo, representing defendant Robert Bettacchi, stepped up to continue questioning the government’s witness.
Frongillo worked to establish a sequence of events and had a timeline he used to illustrate when those events occurred. Frongillo wanted to know when Miller first visited Libby; when he had the sampling results; when he attended town meetings in Libby; when he met with EPA personnel Paul Peronard and Wendy Thomi; and when the government had reports of other sites contaminated with Libby vermiculite, such as the O.M. Scott Co. facility in Marysville, Ohio. As Miller answered, Frongillo marked all of these dates on the timeline.
He also put on the timeline the EPA’s inception in 1970 and the first time Grace notified the government of its concerns about contaminated vermiculite in 1971.
So EPA has known about possible health effects from exposure to Libby minerals for its whole life, Frongillo said.
And Miller said that was correct.
The afternoon ended when Frongillo wanted to look again at the timeline, and Judge Donald Molloy said the next timeline the court would look at was the afternoon recess. Court let out for the evening.
– Will Grant (posted 7:25 p.m.)
Posted: March 11th, 2009 under News.