Senate Bill Grants Immunity To Asbestos Companies and Cuts Assistance To Terminally-Ill Asbestos Victims
Trouble in The Air: Conclusions and Recommendations
The most disturbing aspect of the asbestos debate in Congress is it's profound disconnection from the real costs of living with and dying of asbestos disease. While many legislative attempts have been made to limit the costs to industry of caring for people injured or killed by asbestos, no legislative proposal to date has addressed the personal and public health costs of asbestos in any meaningful way.
At least 10,000 people die each year from asbestos diseases, and that number is on the rise. These deaths are not limited to workers, but include their family members and people with no obvious occupational connection with asbestos, indicating that asbestos in the environment is sufficient to cause fatal disease in some individuals. In addition:
- There is continued asbestos exposure to thousands of people each year through poorly supervised remediation efforts, ongoing occupational exposure, and the presence of decades old crumbling asbestos in hundreds of thousands of buildings nationwide.
- Some 40,000,000 workers were occupationally exposed to asbestos through about 1990. If just half of these workers are alive today, and ten percent of those contract asbestos disease, some 2 million people will need assistance. Yet to date, there has been no effort to identify these people, or screen them for signs of asbestos disease. Indeed, to a great degree, the financial solvency of the trust fund depends on not trying to identify all of people inured or killed by asbestos.
- Asbestos is still not banned, and asbestos exposures today will produce fatal asbestos cancers as far down the road as 50 years from now.
For the third straight year, Asbestos Trust Fund legislation is a top priority of the U.S. Senate, and this year it even became a top priority for President Bush. While some modifications have been made to the current bill when compared to the previous year's failed proposals, the bill retains a cap on the total dollar amount and an arbitrary termination date for the fund, ensuring that tens of thousands of people will die from asbestos disease with no trust fund available to help them.
Taking care of asbestos victims is a cost of doing business in the asbestos industry, and like all other costs, will not end at a specified date in the future. A national trust fund must acknowledge that fact, and not award less to people than is currently awarded in the courts, or deny care to people with fatal or debilitating asbestos diseases just because they are diagnosed after an arbitrarily established date.
Any national asbestos fund established by the Congress must meet basic standards of fairness and equity. At a minimum, such a fund must:
- Not terminate assistance to people killed or injured by asbestos disease at an arbitrary future date.
- Not be capped at a specific payout amount, but instead contain a funding mechanism that provides for adequate and equitable assistance to all asbestos victims, particularly those most severely injured, as long as these injuries continue to occur.
- Not reduce the amount of assistance provided to asbestos victims below the amounts awarded currently via the courts and the asbestos trust system.
- Not delay payment to individuals who already have been awarded assistance through the courts of from asbestos trusts.
The $140 billion dollar compromise asbestos fund in the Senate would fail all of these tests, and with each failure, work to the advantage of asbestos companies and their insurers, while leaving tens of thousands of those most grievously harmed by asbestos with little or no financial assistance and no viable recourse for a remedy.