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Asbestos Claims Solution Sought
Bill Would Set Up Trust Fund, Not Rule Out Courts
By Albert B. Crenshaw
Washington Post Staff Writer
January 4, 2005 - As Congress reconvenes today, the new chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee will set out to accomplish what no one on Capitol Hill has been able to do: resolve the question of who pays how much to whom for injuries tied to exposure to asbestos.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) has circulated among interest groups a draft of a bill he hopes will become the basis of a solution for this long-running and highly contentious issue. The proposal features a trust fund, into which companies associated with asbestos would contribute billions of dollars to pay the claims of the injured, though no price tag has yet been attached. And in a new twist, it would allow victims to return to the courts if their claims were not paid or were not paid promptly.
The trust-fund approach has been tried without success.
Opponents such as trial lawyers and labor unions have objected that the funding figures under consideration -- $140 billion to $150 billion -- are too small. Defendant companies and their insurers have complained that they are too large. With neither side yielding, a trust-fund bill reported out of the Judiciary Committee under then-Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) in 2003 failed to reach a floor vote last spring.
Some insurers and companies argue that a bill would not bring "closure" to the issue, while some trial lawyers contend that protections are inadequate for the very sick and those who have been awarded compensation but have not yet been paid.
Meanwhile, 100,000 more asbestos-related lawsuits were filed in 2003, and about 600,000 claims are pending, according to the Rand Institute for Civil Justice and Tillinghast-Towers Perrin, a consulting firm. Asbestos, tiny silicate fibers once widely used in fireproofing homes, buildings and ships, can be easily inhaled. Once in the lungs, it causes a number of ailments, including mesothelioma, a rare but almost always deadly cancer.
A Rand study last year found that corporations have paid out $70 billion for asbestos claims over the past 30 years. About 70 corporations have filed for bankruptcy protection in the face of the continuing flood of lawsuits.
The atmosphere Specter will be operating in is somewhat different than in recent years. The Republicans' majority in the Senate is stronger than it was, and President Bush has made changing the tort system one of the priorities of his second term. But that is no guarantee of success, longtime lobbyists on the issue say.
Interest groups already are lining up to fight for more money.
For instance, an organization called the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization was flying in a group of people with asbestos-related ailments to circulate on Capitol Hill today, meeting with members of Congress and pressing their case.
Correction to This Article
A Jan. 4 Business article included incorrect information on asbestos claims. In 2003, there were 100,000 claims filed by asbestos victims against the Manville trust, not asbestos lawsuits filed generally, and the figure should not have been attributed to the Rand Institute for Civil Justice. Also, the number of claims pending that year was estimated at as many as 300,000, not 600,000, by consulting firm Tillinghast-Towers Perrin.
The View will pay fine for asbestos removal
A developer working on a condo conversion on the east side of Kansas City's downtown loop will pay a $20,000 fine for violating environmental laws regarding the handling of asbestos.
March 9, 2005 - The Missouri Department of Natural Resources negotiated a settlement with Kansas City-based The View LLC, and the Missouri attorney general's office drew up a legal settlement agreement, Steve Feeler, chief of enforcement for the DNR's air pollution control program, said Wednesday.
The View will pay the fine to the Jackson County School Fund, the DNR said in a written release.
Chad Turner, whose father, Richard Turner, is the managing member The View LLC, said the company admitted to no wrongdoing as part of the settlement. The city has inspected the project and given it a clean bill of health, he said.
The company agreed as part of the settlement to comply with all applicable Missouri laws, said Jim Gardner, a spokesman for Attorney General Jay Nixon.
The DNR said it had received a complaint about renovations at the former Vista Del Rio building, at 600 Admiral Blvd., and sent an investigator to the site on Dec. 15, 17 and 19, 2003.
The department concluded that the company hadn't notified the proper authorities about the asbestos-abatement project and that it had used untrained, uncertified workers who improperly removed materials that contained asbestos.
The workers were spraying the material with a high-powered pressure washer and improperly packaging and containing it for disposal, the DNR said.
The settlement alleges that the company violated the state's Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants law and the Missouri Air Conservation law.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fiber invisible that, when breathed, can cause asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer.
Alton property owner sent asbestos violation notice
The countys environmental health division has issued a notice of violation to the trustee of an Alton property that may be heavily contaminated by asbestos.
The Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services Environmental Health Division sent the notice to David R. Jones in Petaluma, informing him of eight violations. Among them are failure to label and close hazardous material containers, and failure to prevent the release of hazardous waste onto the ground.
The letter from hazardous materials specialist Larry Lancaster demands that the landowner identify, contain and remove all hazardous materials at the site.
The illegal storage and disposal of an uncharacterized hazardous substance present a risk to public health and the environment, Lancaster wrote in the Nov. 28 letter.
Jones did not return the Times-Standards phone call by deadline.
The old Alton & Pacific Railroad property, about 1/2-mile east of U.S. Highway 101 on State Route 36, was once the jumping-off point for a narrow-gauge tourist train ride until the late 1980s.
Redding resident Robert Sallinen on Nov. 15 informed county health officials that he found what looked like bags of asbestos around the plot during an inspection of rail equipment. The environmental health division hired a contractor to test the materials, then fenced off the property. In an e-mail Friday, Sallinen wrote that he was trying to protect Mike Riley -- the propertys caretaker -- and his family.
Riley was reached briefly by phone Monday, but could not be reached for a follow-up interview.
Environmental health director Brian Cox said the landowner, believed to be the estate of a man named John Spice, would be responsible for any environmental cleanup. Still to be determined is what agency will oversee the cleanup.
That responsibility could eventually go to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agencys Department of Toxic Substances Control or the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, Cox said. The state Occupational Safety and Health Administration has also been contacted, but has no current investigation.
Cox said that the only sampling that has taken place has been for asbestos.
Regional water board Assistant Executive Officer Luis Rivera said he was not aware of his agencys participation.