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Flawed Medical Criteria in Specter/Leahy Bill Leave Lung Cancer Victims Out in Cold

For Immediate Release: 
Tuesday, April 26, 2005

(WASHINGTON, April 26) -- An EWG Action Fund analysis of the Specter/Leahy asbestos bill before the Senate Judiciary Committee today finds that the legislation delivers unusually harsh treatment to people dying of asbestos-caused lung cancer. Through a convoluted maze of exposure criteria that are not recognized by any authoritative or mainstream medical society, the bill would deny all assistance to any person with confirmed asbestos-caused lung cancer whose workplace exposure began after 1978. Thousands of additional lung cancer victims who meet all other criteria in the bill would be denied help if they started work after 1974.

The reason these people are denied assistance is that the newly minted medical criteria in the bill devalue time worked around asbestos by 50 percent if it occurred after 1976 and by 90 percent after 1986. Workplace standards limiting asbestos exposure were not adopted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) until 1994. Asbestos use peaked in the U.S. in 1974, at 1.4 billion pounds annually.

"By the time most people with asbestos-caused lung cancer accumulate enough exposure to qualify for help under the bill's convoluted criteria, they will already have died of the disease, or the fund will have run its course and terminated," said Richard Wiles, Sr. Vice President of EWG Action Fund.

More than 10,000 people a year die from asbestos disease, and 5,000 of these are killed by asbestos-caused lung cancer. The number of asbestos-caused fatalities in the U.S. is increasing each year and is expected to peak around the year 2020. Asbestos is still legal. More than one million workers a year are exposed to asbestos on the job.

"Asbestos mortality is a major public health crisis, yet there is not a shred of public health policy in the Specter/Leahy bill. This Congress insists on bailing out the companies who knowingly exposed their workers to this deadly substance, while doing next to nothing to help the disabled and dying," said Wiles.

EWG Action Fund's analysis of the bill the Senate Judiciary Committee is debating today is here: http://www.ewg.org/issues/asbestos/20050426/index.php

Last year, EWG Action Fund put together a comprehensive look at the asbestos public health crisis in the U.S., which is available here: http://www.ewg.org/reports/asbestos/

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