Those With Asbestos Diseases Lose Access to Courts and Fair Compensation
WASHINGTON, DC - June 3, 2005 - A coalition of consumer advocacy, environmental, and asbestos victims groups held a press conference last week to oppose S. 852, which had just cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee. The organizations included: USAction, Public Citizen, the Environmental Working Group, and the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization.
S. 852 sets up a trust fund for asbestos victims, but deprives them of the right to a jury trial. Public Citizen has shown how S. 852 benefits corporations that have made or distributed asbestos products. Under the trust system, their contributions to those suffering from asbestos diseases would drop dramatically-by over 20 billion. The list of lucky companies includes at least 10 asbestos product manufacturers that have filed for bankruptcy plus Dow Chemical, Ford, General Electric, General Motors, Honeywell, Pfizer, and Viacom.
The Environmental Working Group has focused on the story of asbestos-contaminated vermiculite, a substance shipped from the asbestos-containing mines of Libby, Montana, to plants throughout the nation. The group points out that people who live near the 200 factories that processed vermiculite will get no special assistance for their asbestos diseases, unless they have the aggressive cancer, mesothelioma.
The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), the "voice of asbestos victims," has repeatedly said S. 852 was constructed without adequate discussion with those who have asbestos cancers and other asbestos diseases. "We are sorely disappointed that S. 852 has been voted out of the Judiciary Committee, " said ADAO President Alan Reinstein. "It is clear that the victims and their families were not considered stakeholders" (Press Release, May 31, 2005).
S. 852: Helping Corporations, Harming Asbestos Victims
S. 852 requires that existing asbestos lawsuits be dismissed, even if trial dates have already been scheduled. Claimants would be required to apply for help through the trust, and be subject to an unwieldy process to get their cases heard. Other major problems of the bill include:
- Inadequate funding. The asbestos trust fund is likely to run out of money before it can compensate all those suffering from asbestos diseases.
- Unfair, outdated medical criteria for determining who has asbestosis, asbestos lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other asbestos diseases.
- Arbitrary asbestos exposure requirements.
S. 852, "represents the best of junk science that non-physicians can come up with," commented Dr. Mike Harbut, a speaker at the press conference and co-director of the National Center for Vermiculite and Asbestos-Related Cancers. Dr. Harbut noted that the bill requires workers with lung cancer and work-related asbestos exposure to show that they also have asbestos-related lung scarring. Most medical experts believe that lung scarring is not necessary to show that lung cancer was caused by contact with asbestos. "This is craziness," Dr. Harbut said. "The asbestos particle doesn't care if its scars your lung before it gives you cancer."
"Thousands of people who die each year of asbestos caused lung cancer will not get a penny from the fund" noted Richard Wiles, senior vice president of Environmental Working Group Action Fund (Press Release, May 26, 2005). "There is no reason to deny these people the assistance they need, other than corporate greed," he added.