updated 6/13/2006 2:41:46 PM ET 2006-06-13T18:41:46

A federal judge dismissed a criminal charge against W.R. Grace & Co. and some former top officials that alleged they knowingly endangered miners and area residents in the town of Libby.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy concluded the time allotted under federal law to pursue that allegation had run out.

A federal grand jury indicted Grace and seven top officials in February 2005, accusing them of conspiring to conceal health risks posed by the company’s mine in Libby. Molloy’s ruling, dated last week, is a partial victory for the defense, which has been attempting to get the conspiracy charge thrown out or limited.

Hundreds of people in the northwestern Montana town have been sickened, some fatally, by exposure to asbestos from the vermiculite mine. It closed in 1990.

Several defense attorneys declined comment or didn’t immediately return telephone calls Tuesday. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Billings also didn’t return a call Tuesday morning.

The case is set for trial in September, though defense attorneys have sought to have that date pushed back. The defense also has asked for separate trials for the named defendants.

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