Senate Judiciary Committee Delays Vote on Flawed Asbestos Legislation

Asbestos Disease Requirements Are Arbitrary, According to S. 852 Critics

WASHINGTON, D.C. — May 2, 2005 — After holding a stormy hearing about the asbestos bill, S. 852, the Senate Judiciary Committee delayed its vote on the legislation until May 12. Committee members are considering 83 amendments, and many say that they need more time to consider the measure.

S. 852 would set up a trust fund for asbestos victims, but deprive them of access to the courts. Existing asbestos lawsuits would be dismissed, even if trial dates have already been set. Workers would be required to file new claims with the trust on forms that may not be available for months. By some estimates, it could take two years to start processing claims and an additional three to four years to pay approved claims. The legislation also abolishes asbestos trust funds created by companies that are going through bankruptcies.

The national asbestos trust fund proposed by S. 852 would not provide adequate compensation for those suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos diseases, according to many medical experts, labor, and consumer groups. It may also run out of money before all claims can be satisfied.

Margaret Seminario, director of the AFL–CIO, said in testimony last week "…the bill fails to ensure victims just and timely compensation and would leave tens of thousands of individuals with no remedy at all." Sen. Joseph Biden (D–DE) said that he would not support S. 852 without major changes. "I think the fund is grossly underfunded," he commented (Bloomberg News, April 28, 2005).

S. 852's Medical Standards Are Unfair and Arbitrary

S. 852 details the medical standards and asbestos exposure requirements that must be met to prove the existence of an asbestos disease. However, these criteria are "…not based in science, and not based in medical knowledge," according to testimony before the Senate Committee by Dr. Philip Landrigan, Chairman of the Department of Community and Preventive Medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

Dr. Landrigan disagrees with the bill's asbestos exposure requirements because they are arbitrary. For example, at least 5 years of asbestos exposure are needed to make an asbestosis claim. However, even if a worker has scarred lungs and a medical diagnosis of asbestosis, he or she would not qualify if asbestos exposure was for a period of 4 1/2 years.

Dr. Landrigan also objects to discounting asbestos exposures from 1976–1986 by half and post–1986 exposures by 1/10. There is no medical reason for this section of the bill. Many workers who removed asbestos after 1976 did not have less exposure than those who came into contact with the substance prior to that date.

Under S. 852, a lung cancer patient may not receive compensation without evidence of asbestosis or asbestos–related lung scarring in both lungs. However, in many cases lung cancer caused by asbestos occurs without any radiographic evidence of pleural plaques or asbestosis. Asbestosis is not a necessary precursor to asbestos–induced lung cancer. Also, requiring that the damage be in both lungs rather than in one lung has no basis in biology or medicine, Dr. Landrigan explained.

Let the Voice of Asbestos Disease Victims Be Heard

Dr. Landrigan listed only some examples of the faulty science found in S. 852. The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization points out the bill's main problem, however—it was written without considering the voices of those who have become ill from asbestos diseases.

Currently, there is no cure for asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma. S. 852 does not contain funding for asbestos disease research or find ways to help patients and their families. Instead, it focuses on the finances of asbestos companies.