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Asbestos bill fatally flawed

WASHINGTON (PAI) - April 30, 2005 — Despite some improvements in the latest legislation, the AFL-CIO has dropped its support of a comprehensive asbestos victims compensation bill.

Asbestos victims suffer from mesothelioma — a form of cancer — asbestosis and other lung diseases caused by years of inhaling the asbestos fibers as they worked in buildings, in mines, in shipyards and at factories.

The fund is supposed to pay them for their medical bills and lost earnings with money from asbestos producers and their insurers. But in return, ex-workers would be barred from suing.

The measure, drafted by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), would establish a $140 billion fund to compensate the 200,000-plus workers who are victims of asbestos. The Senate may debate the bill by the end of May.

Specter’s new bill “includes some important improvements such as increases in award levels for some disease categories and a bar against any liens on workers compensation awards,” AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney said in mid-April. But it also bars money “for a large group of lung cancer victims, without allowing these individuals to document asbestos exposure through CT scans, and the absence of remedies for victims during the period” before the asbestos fund starts.

The federation also objected to a statute of limitations for victims to file claims, and the lack of details about what would be done if the fund runs out of money. Business groups oppose refilling the fund, and the AFL-CIO objects to their stand, too.

Asbestos victims’ groups note asbestos-caused disease takes so long to develop that the number of victims will peak in 2020.

The victims’ groups and the firefighters union, which represents workers who toil in asbestos-laced, older burning buildings, are battling the bill. On April 1, they launched last-ditch lobbying to stop it, arguing it’s too pro-business and does not help victims.

According to the Environmental Working Group, “The Senate’s latest scheme to limit the liability of asbestos makers would cut benefits dramatically to people dying of the fatal asbestos cancer, mesothelioma, and pre-empt laws in 12 states, and court cases in at least eight, that guarantee a speedy trial to terminally ill plaintiffs.” EWG said dying mesothelioma victims would see their cases thrown out or would have to wait for nine months before restarting their cases or filing claims. “Hundreds of people would die waiting,” EWG adds.

Japan Lawmakers Pressured into Banning Use And Sale of Asbestos

July 18, 2005 - A recent spike in the number of mesothelioma-related deaths is putting pressure on Japan’s government officials confronted by a Japanese asbestos industry group. The demands came nearly 25 years after the World Health Organization warned of the fact that asbestos was a carcinogen; however Japan did not ban the two most dangerous kinds of asbestos until 1995. It prohibited the use of asbestos in all types of construction last year and promised to ban it entirely by 2008.

The banning of asbestos by Finland and Italy forced the lawmakers to propose a bill which would have banned the manufacture, use, and sale of asbestos. It also called for its impacts on health to be assessed. However, the Japanese Asbestos Association, a domestic asbestos industry group, lobbied that the health risks of exposure to asbestos were highly overstated, which led to enough opposition to abandon the bill entirely. The association also argued that the alternatives of asbestos, used as a fire retardant, would be expensive and that their safety had not been verified.

Officials of the Japanese Asbestos Association, who at the time believed that “asbestos was safe if laws and government directives were obeyed,” commented that they were wrong after test results were revealed proving the opposite.

A Japanese farm equipment maker Kubota Corp. has stated that 79 of its former employees may have died of asbestos-related diseases over the last several decades. The Health Ministry of Japan also showed that over 900 people died of mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer, in 2003 alone. Kubota Corp’s statement has urged other companies to report deaths of former employees and their family members.

Japanese media as well as medical experts have warned the public that they are at risk of contracting the disease by being around thousands of older buildings such as schools and factories where asbestos was used as means of fire prevention during construction.

I still want lung damage payout

03 August 2006 - A grandfather is among dozens of people in the area struck down by asbestos-related illnesses waiting on a landmark High Court ruling to see if they will be able to receive thousands of pounds in compensation.

David Brown, 58, suffers from pleural plaques, a condition which means his lungs are lined with patches of asbestos.

Up until seven months ago Mr Brown, who was exposed to asbestos when he worked as plumber at a number of companies in the city for 30 years and is now a bus driver, would have been liable to receive up to £10,000 in compensation.

However, earlier this year Norwich Union successfully argued in the High Court that while pleural plaques showed a person had been exposed to asbestos, it did not mean they were suffering from any disease and therefore people could not make a claim. Mr Brown, 58, of Green Lane West, Rackheath, has urged the House of Lords to reverse the ruling when it makes its announcement, expected some time soon.

He would only be liable for compensation if his condition worsened to become asbestosis, mesothelioma or cancer.

His case has come to light a week after the Evening News revealed 51 people in Norfolk were being treated for asbestos related problems during 2004/05, the 15th highest out of 90 local authority areas.

The father-of-three and grandfather-of-four, who was found to have asbestos in his lungs three years ago, said today: “It is possible that if my health gets worse I may be liable for compensation - but I don't really want that to happen.

“It is okay for them to say the condition is benign and therefore “don't worry” but it's impossible not to. Every time I get a cold I worry that it is my lungs.”

Mr Brown has enlisted the help of Norwich solicitor Godfrey Morgan, whose Clarence Road-based law firm is a leading specialist in asbestos cases.

He said dozens more people across the city were in the same position as Mr Brown and told the Evening News: “Despite the fact that this is not causing serious problems at the moment, it could do and is still a major worry.

“It has caused Mr Brown psychological problems through the fear of what might happen in the future.

“More and more people are coming forward with problems and insurance companies are increasingly trying to find ways out of paying up. This sort of thing will be affecting a lot of local people who should be entitled to compensation.”

The Evening News launched the Dust of Death Asbestos Action Campaign in 1997, backed by Norwich North MP Ian Gibson, seeking better treatment for workers who had been made ill from exposure to asbestos.

A spokes man from Norwich Union said: “Pleural plaques is a condition which has no symptoms and does not affect a person's ability to live live their life.

“ It is a question of whether we should be compensating people for a condition with no symptoms.”

Ü Are you trying to get compensation for an industrial disease? Call David Powles on 01603 772447 or e-mail davidpowles

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