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Feb. 4, 2015

Congress Targets Asbestos Victims

Statement of Susan Harley, Deputy Director, Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division

Note: The U.S. House of Representatives’ Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law holds a hearing on the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act (FACT Act) (H.R. 526) at 1 p.m. today. Read a letter from public interest groups to lawmakers for more details (PDF).

As if people sickened by asbestos had not suffered enough, along comes Congress to compound their misery.

A measure being considered by lawmakers today, the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act (FACT Act) (H.R. 526), would delay compensation for those suffering with lethal diseases like mesothelioma. It also would require victims to publicly disclose personal information, such as portions of their Social Security numbers, thereby making them ripe for identity theft.

Asbestos was once ubiquitous as insulation and a flame retardant in buildings, homes and workplaces like naval vessels. Now it is recognized as a highly dangerous product. The frightening reality is that an unknown amount of the cancer-causing substance is still present in our surroundings, but the asbestos industry does not have to disclose where and when it was and is being used.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that roughly 3,000 people continue to die from mesothelioma and asbestosis every year. Some experts estimate the death toll is as high as 10,000 people per year when other types of asbestos-linked diseases and cancers are included.

But H.R. 526 – which likely will sail through the U.S. House of Representatives and could pass the Senate as well – would require asbestos bankruptcy trusts to respond to any and all corporate defendants’ information requests, slowing or effectively stopping compensation for victims. Since patients diagnosed with fatal asbestos-caused diseases have very short expected lifespans, a delay in justice could leave victims’ next of kin struggling to pay medical and funeral bills.

The real need for transparency is disclosure of past and ongoing asbestos exposures. Congress should act to protect asbestos victims instead of opening the door for the asbestos industry to further escape accountability for poisoning the public and exposing trust claimants to scams.

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