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Australian asbestos exporter lobbies Congress for "no fault" legislation before American victims can be compensated

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

In the wake of the W.R. Grace indictment for asbestos poisoning in Libby, Mont., Australian building products company James Hardie Industries is working hard to make sure it escapes responsibility for asbestos building products and brake linings it exported to the U.S. from the 1960s to the 1980s.

The company has hired Washington influence peddling firm Shea and Gardner – a subsidiary of Goodwin Proctor – to push its powerful Republican contacts for legislation establishing President Bush’s $140 billion scheme to eliminate asbestos lawsuits.

Hardie’s newfound interest in American politics comes after The Australian broke the story last week of Hardie’s asbestos dealings, plus a secret payout to an American victim from one of Hardie’s former subsidiaries. Just before Christmas, Hardie also agreed to a $1.5 billion (Australian) fund for Australian victims of products it manufactured until 1987.

Unfortunately for Hardie, that will likely not be enough to cover the potential American lawsuits, said Steve Kazan, whose Oakland-based firm has decided to pursue this case. Kazan said, however, that he and his colleagues will be “quite happy” to sue Hardie’s registered U.S. subsidiaries on behalf of the sick and dying when and if the trust fund is exhausted. This move should help to prevent Hardie from hiding behind the Australian government, which the company is lobbying for protection through legislation allowing only Australians to covered by the compensation fund.

For more information on asbestos and industry’s efforts to avoid caring for those it poisoned, please see EWG’s studies A Slow Death in Texas and Asbestos: Think Again.

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