Locke says Grace worked to delay NIOSH study
After learning that NIOSH intended to conduct a study on worker asbestos exposure at their Libby, Mont., facilities, W.R. Grace officials scrambled to delay the agency’s efforts, said former employee Robert Locke. Locke said there was a general consensus at Grace that such a study would adversely affect the chemical company.
“We did not know what kind of results they would come up with,” he said. “If we lost sales as a result, we would lose money.”
Reflecting on the initial meeting with the agency in 1980, Locke said that he was surprised at how willing the government was to respect Grace’s opposition to the study. Locke said that officials from NIOSH did not press Grace for immediate action, and instead left the meeting early, choosing to follow up at a later date.
“They just kind of curled up into a ball and rolled away,” he said “They didn’t have any fight.”
Assistant U.S. attorney Kris McLean walked Locke through several letters and internal memos from the early ’80s that detailed the company’s reaction to the proposed NIOSH study. Chief among these was a so-called options memo that Locke said outlined ways Grace could deal with the proposed study. The memo detailed seven options, ranging from full compliance to employing a preemptive study and drawing on outside influences to discourage a study.
Locke said that he personally suggested four of the options, including the suggestion that Grace conduct their own study as a way to control the issue and lessen the impact of a NIOSH study.
“It would be a study that we would have significant input to,” he said. “Maybe NIOSH would never publish their study.”
McLean introduced several letters O. Mario Favorito wrote during this period to the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Favorito, corporate counsel for Grace, was named in the 2005 indictment that initiated this trial, but he was severed from these proceedings, and his case is set to be tried separately.
Locke testified that such letters were part of an effort to go over the heads of NIOSH officials and create opposition to their study within other agencies.
“MSHA had the regulatory authority over Libby,” he said, adding that they could stop the study if they did not see the need for it. “At the very least, it’s going to delay things.”
In the end, Locke said Grace’s efforts to stop the study were unsuccessful, but noted that the time gained between the first meeting and the declaration that NIOSH would conduct a study was beneficial to the company.
“We were trying to turn off pressure for the study,” he said. “We achieved about eight or nine months of delay.”
–Kyle Lehman (Posted 4:20)