March 4, 2004

Asbestos: Think Again: Asbestos Bailout Fails (April 2004)


April 22, 2004

Asbestos Bailout Fails:

Issue is Americans' Health, Not Companies' Costs

The Senate failed today to force a vote on the asbestos bailout bill, ensuring that it will not pass this year. The bill, rushed to the floor by Majority Leader Frist without a committee hearing, would have denied thousands of Americans their day in court, reduced damage awards to victims of asbestos diseases, and run out of money well before the epidemic of asbestos deaths peaks.

"The bill would have taken money from the families of asbestos victims and given it back to the companies that killed or injured their loved ones," said Richard Wiles, Senior Vice President of the Environmental Working Group. "It deserved to fail."

Just a few months ago, an earlier version of the bill seemed likely to pass. Since then, the truth has come out: The nation has an asbestos crisis, but it's not about the impact of victims' damage claims on the economy. It's about the staggering toll of death and illness asbestos continues to take on American families.

In March, the first-ever analysis of federal mortality records by the EWG Action Fund found that at least 10,000 Americans die from asbestos diseases each year, and the number is rising. Each year, another 100,000 are disabled. All told, over the next 20 years more than 200,000 Americans will from asbestos disease, and another 2 million will be disabled.

There wasn't enough money in the Frist bill to take care of even half of these current and future victims. Perhaps worse, thousands of victims who have already won compensation through the courts would have had their money confiscated for an asbestos trust fund. They'd be forced to start from square one and bring their claims to a new federal bureaucracy.

Many people think asbestos has been banned. But more than 30 million pounds of asbestos are imported into the U.S. each year, and each year more than 1 million workers are exposed to asbestos on the job.

"The first step in stopping this epidemic is to ban asbestos now", said Wiles. EWG Action Fund called on the Senate to pass Sen. Patty Murray's Ban Asbestos in America Act. The bill would also fund much-needed research into treatment for asbestos diseases, and create registries of exposed workers who could benefit from advances in treatment.