By Laura L. Lundquist
Grace Case reporter
Julie Yang will be called to testify for the U.S. government, although she will be a “hostile witness.” A former scientist for W.R. Grace, she is not a supporter of the prosecution’s case as the previous witnesses have been.
Yang is a chemist, now in her late 70s, who designed Grace’s asbestos laboratory techniques and conducted analyses of asbestos concentration, specifically tremolite, in products such as Monokote spray fire proofing. She also measured asbestos concentrations in the air when various Grace products were tested. Yang told the New York Times in 2000 that the company tested its products only once or twice a year. The tests were expensive and the company was more concerned with identifying rich veins of vermiculate, she said.
It was Yang’s data that Grace would summarize when they made claims that their products were safe. Thus she will be a hostile witness, which means she is a witness called by Grace but who is being used by the prosecution to indirectly support their case. The advantage of using a hostile witness is the prosecution is allowed to use leading questions without the defense being allowed to raise objections.
A long-time Grace employee, Yang was an associate of two of the defendants: safety director and toxicologist Harry Eschenbach and mine manager William McCaig. As described in the 2003 book, “Libby, Montana,” by Andrea Peacock, back in 1997, when Grace was told there was a new limitation on the amount of fibers that workers should be exposed to, they were worried about the additional cost of meeting the requirement. Then Yang, a 1952 graduate of Indiana University, developed her own method of counting asbestos fibers.
“If you don’t have any training, everything looks like a fiber because it looks like a line under the microscope. If you use the standard counting, anything that looks like a line, you count it,” she told Peacock in a phone interview.
Yang told New York Times reporters Michael Moss and Adrienne Appel in 2001 that the number of fibers she counted in samples of Monokote were about half those found by other labs. The Times reported that, at the time, Yang’s methods drew objections from a laboratory co-worker, who protested to a superior: “As you can see by the very low counts, we would not be able to compare ourselves to any outside party.”
The Times reported that, according to Grace records, independent laboratories measured as much as 5 percent asbestos while Yang was reporting concentrations of 0.001 percent in Monokote.
Grace used Yang’s results but never had them reviewed by other scientists because they claimed it was “confidential business information.” A number of legal papers have questioned the credibility of private research because of the lack of peer review.
Wendy Wagner and David Michaels of George Washington University wrote in their 2004 paper, “Private research is also exempted from public scrutiny through guarantees afforded “proprietary information” and “confidential business information.”… From the standpoint of ensuring the quality of industry research used for regulation, broad CBI protections are very problematic. The only parties able to review the scientific information are a few “cleared” agency officials, and the rigor and assumptions made in their review are effectively unreviewable by others inside and outside the agency.”
While Yang’s data never had to meet the scrutiny of her scientific peers, it is likely to be scrutinized in a court of law as the government’s attorneys are expected to work to discredit her results.