Yang finishes testimony
With a sigh of relief and a smile, former Grace chemist Dr. Julie Yang finished her testimony in court Thursday afternoon.
“No more questions, this is great! I’m going home,” Yang said to laughter in the courtroom.
Under both cross-examination and redirect, Yang spent the latter half of the afternoon explaining the delicacy and expertise required to count and identify asbestos fibers, as well as her pivitol role in the Grace hamster study.
During her tenure as an employee at Grace, one of Yang’s tasks was to identify tremolite fibers within samples of vermiculite from the company’s Libby, Mont. mine. Defense attorney Carolyn Kubota questioned Yang on the difficulties involved with identifying such fibers. She explained that tremolite fibers and the actual vermiculite were very similar and that a shard of vermiculite on edge could confuse someone into thinking it was a fiber.
“OSHA has very strict standards… It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of experience,” Yang said, adding that “things that aren’t tremolite could look like tremolite under a microscope.”
It was this experience that was lacking when Grace set up a testing laboratory in the Libby, Mont. mine, according to Yang. In order to combat this, Yang began to analyze the Libby findings for a second time at her Cambridge, Mass. laboratory.
“They sent material to us every month. We’d evaluate it and then send it back. Back and forth, we got a pretty good agreement,” Yang said.
However, original counts from the Libby lab were often twice as high as the counts found in the Cambridge lab, according to Yang. The problem wasn’t fixed until Yang sent her best counter to Libby to train employees in 1985.
After the cross-examination came a short redirect from prosecutor Kris McLean. In it, McLean asked Yang why she never published her findings from the hamster study.
“Grace didn’t want it published. I turned it over to the management; it’s not my call. They decided not to publish it,” Yang said.
Yang felt she had to push Grace to do the test in the first place, explaining that the company was wary of the costs and of the possibility of a less-than-favorable outcome.
“Whether it was positive or negative, I think you want the results so you know the effect of Grace materials versus regular vermiculite,” Yang said.
McLean finished his redirect by asking Yang about the vermiculite contents of “stoner rock,” heavier mine material found within the Libby expansion plant.
“Oh, they have a lot!” Yang said smiling.
Court was ajourned at 5:09 p.m. and is expected to continue at 9:00 Monday morning.
-Nate Hegyi (posted 6:36 p.m.)