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World Trade Center Added

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Until now it has been the elephant in the room during Senate debates about asbestos poisoning: What about the vast cloud of dust that blanketed New York City when the World Trade Center collapsed? Several senators have spent years working to craft a $140 billion fund that could process thousands of injury claims from people sickened by asbestos. There has been little discussion of whether a new wave of claims may arise from the September 11, 2001 attacks, when a mix of pollutants was spewed over Manhattan as the Twin Towers fell. A new Senate proposal, however, has raised the subject. Language allowing New Yorkers, along with victims of last year’s Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, to file claims may attract more support for legislation to create the fund but raises new questions about whether the fund will quickly go broke. “You have an awful lot of people whose lungs are exposed to this material,” said Dr. Stephen Levin of Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. It has been monitoring the health of thousands of rescue workers from the September 11 disaster. “Asbestos has been found in bulk samples, both on the pile at Ground Zero, as well as in settled dust in buildings and offices. It’s surely around,” Levin said in an interview. Asbestos, a fire-retardant mineral, was widely used in building insulation and other products until the mid-1970s, and asbestos victims’ groups say the World Trade Center had tons of it. Inhalation of its fibers has been linked to cancer and other diseases, which usually take years to develop. A Senate bill by...

More criticism in June 2006

Legislation to create a national asbestos trust fund is once again drawing criticism for allegedly shortchanging the injured, making the public pay for employers’ wrongdoing, and setting the stage for eventual financial collapse. In late May, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) rolled out his second attempt this year to forge a compensation system for one of the country’s most massive occupational-health problems. The Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act of 2006 proclaims an end to what many corporate defendants call a “litigation nightmare.” But critics say the new bill simply dresses up the anti-lawsuit, pro-corporate agendas of its predecessor. “A bad bill was simply made a lot worse,” said Michael Tucker with the Committee to Protect Mesothelioma Victims, an advocacy group for patients with the rare asbestos-related cancer. Noting that the bill’s biggest supporters include companies linked to hundreds of thousands of sicknesses and deaths, he added, “Victims have never been involved in crafting this legislation, and they’ve been left out in the cold yet again.”Following the same framework as legislation blocked earlier this year in the Senate, the bill would move asbestos-injury cases out of courtrooms and into a “no-fault” claim trust-fund system administered by the Department of Labor. The fund would be financed through pre-planned contributions by corporations and insurers facing litigation for making workers sick. Projected to dole out about $140 billion to victims and their families over the course of three decades, the fund would, in theory, provide efficient compensation for the injured and minimize financial damage to corporations. Building on the previous bill’s controversial medical criteria, the new proposal would require more...

2006 economic report

Douglas Holtz-Eakin delivered a significant blow against the effort to revive asbestos-reform legislation when he testified earlier this month that a cost assessment of the measure he had provided in November as director of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) was unrealistic. Some say that the testimony was a surprising reversal, but others note that since leaving the CBO Holtz-Eakin has taken a position created by a $5 million grant from a source adamantly opposed to the controversial legislation. Holtz-Eakin is highly regarded on Capitol Hill, attracting praise from both sides of the aisle. But the funding of his organization has raised some conflict-of-interest concerns about his views on the pending asbestos-reform bill. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) is pushing to bring the bill to the floor for a vote, but Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has said he will not do so unless it clearly has enough support to pass. A previous effort by Frist to pass the legislation fell a few votes short this year. As CBO director, Holtz-Eakin testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee that a trust fund that would be set up by the bill to pay asbestos-related medical claims would have little effect on the federal budget. But when he appeared again before the committee seven months later, Holtz-Eakin compared the trust fund to three of the largest mandatory government programs, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and declared that now is ?a particularly bad time? to start such a new program. Critics of the Specter legislation have criticized it as a costly program that could significantly add to the deficit years down...

House Disagrees with Senate

The article below was published in today’s (6-23) Congress Daily.  We will stay on top of this as usual, we have to realize that this issue will NEVER go away.  The Members of Congress that signed the letter mentioned in the story support the harsh medical criteria bill sponsored by Rep. Chris Cannon (R-UT). House Conservatives Want To Write Asbestos Alternative Conservative House Republicans are urging leaders to take up a narrow asbestos bill rather than take a back seat to the Senate, where a massive asbestos overhaul is languishing. In a letter to House Speaker Hastert, members of the Republican Study Committee called the recently revamped Senate bill setting up a $140 billion asbestos trust fund “even worse” than the original legislation and asked that leaders instead focus on a House bill that would simply set medical criteria for those filing asbestos lawsuits. They asked that the House “have the opportunity to work its will on the issue rather than being asked to accept a flawed Senate product.” A spokesman for House Judiciary Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee Chairman Chris Cannon, R-Utah, the sponsor of the House medical-criteria bill, said the letter was a response to the new version of the Senate asbestos bill, the subject of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing earlier this month. “This bloated $140 billion trust fund, with new taxes and increased bureaucracy, simply is not needed today,” the letter states. A spokesman for Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., who also signed the letter, said the House bill would pass the chamber if it came to a vote. “We’re confident that in the House we would have...

FAIR ACT – recent news

WASHINGTON (AFX) — Crowded out by the debate over immigration policy, the war in Iraq and tension over Iran, the asbestos reform bill is on Congress’s backburner, waiting for a new push. But while it’s unclear whether there will be action on the bill in the coming months, opponents to the legislation are continuing to work to ensure the bill doesn’t get another chance. The measure, called the Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution, was sent back to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 14 after it fell short of the 60 votes needed in the full Senate to overcome an objection that it would violate budget rules by requiring federal funding without offsetting revenue. Supporters now are concerned that, with more than a few hot potatoes already on their hands, Republicans may not be willing to fight for another controversial bill in an election year. The bill, which was debated at length in the last session of Congress but never approved, would require businesses and insurers to set up a $140 billion trust fund for asbestos victims and limit companies’ liability. But victims complain that it would limit benefits to only those who were exposed to asbestos at work. Congressional budget analysts have said the asbestos claims submitted could reach $150 billion. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., made it clear he’s not willing to bring the bill to a vote unless he’s sure it will be approved. He said he will not bring the bill back on the floor for a Senate vote unless 60 members are committed to support the motion to waive the budget point and...

Judge Approves Owens Corning Plan

July 17, 2006 A federal judge on Monday approved Owens Corning’s plan for emerging from bankruptcy this fall, five years after seeking protection from creditors over health claims related to its asbestos products. Owens Corning sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2000 in an effort to shield itself from claims for billions of dollars in damages linked to the asbestos products it made decades ago. Judge Judith K. Fitzgerald approved the company’s disclosure statement from the bench and said she will likely issue a written order Tuesday. At a hearing Monday, company lawyer Norman L. Pernick told Fitzgerald that most of the objections to the disclosure statement had been resolved. The judge rejected those that remained.  After the judge’s formal approval of the disclosure statement, Owens Corning’s proposal will be sent within 17 days to creditors for a vote before a scheduled Sept. 18 confirmation hearing. The plan has an effective date of Oct. 30 and would allow Owens Corning to exit bankruptcy with a value of $5.86 billion. Existing equity would be wiped out and 131.4 million shares of new stock will be issued.  As part of its plan, the Toledo, Ohio-based company will pay more than $5 billion to asbestos claimants and as much as $2.27 billion to holders of bank debt. The U.S. Supreme Court recently declined to hear an appeal of another plan that would have lumped together the company’s assets. Earlier reorganization proposals failed because of disputes between creditors. Under the original version of the plan, shareholders would have gotten nothing. Shareholders and some creditors had hoped there would be legislation to create a national trust to take over asbestos liabilities...

Judge OKs Owens Plan to Exit Bankruptcy

Judge Judith Fitzgerald, a federal bankruptcy judge, indicated from the bench that she approved of Owens Corning’s plan for emerging from bankruptcy. The plan has an effective date of Oct. 30, 2006. The reorganization plan, filed in December, 2005, follows more than five years of litigation between attorneys for asbestos claimants, owners of the company’s bank debt and others. The plan shifts Owens Corning’s $7 billion in asbestos liabilities off the company books and into a trust that will be established for the plaintiffs. As part of the plan, the Toledo, Ohio-based building-products company will pay more than $5 billion to asbestos claimants, including mesothelioma victims, and as much as $2.27 billion to holders of bank debt. Existing equity would be wiped out and millions of new stock shares will be...

Owens Corning Plans to Exit Bankruptcy in 2006

$6.7bn settlement for asbestos victims 10 may 06 BUILDING products maker Owens Corning has agreed to a $5.2 billion  settlement of long-running claims for illnesses linked to asbestos, the company and lawyers for plaintiffs said. The deal is likely to be the biggest asbestos settlement in history, according to lawyers who represent plaintiffs. Owens Corning confirmed the deal today, saying it “represents a significant milestone” that will allow the group to emerge from bankruptcy by the end of 2006. The agreement calls for the Ohio-based company to make an initial cash payment of $2.9 billion  in cash into a trust for asbestos victims. A further payment of $1.39 billion would be made later this year and 28.6 million shares of equity in the reorganised company would be included as well. The value of these payments and equity totals in excess of $5.2 billion  and would allow Owens Corning to emerge from bankruptcy without any liability for asbestos claims, the lawyer said.   “The path to justice for victims of asbestos cancer and asbestos poisoning by Owens Corning has been a long and difficult one. Although nothing can ever repair the loss of lives that has occurred, today’s settlement represents a fair resolution for both the victims and Owens Corning,” said a plaintiff’s lawyer. “Although we are pleased with the outcome of this settlement, it is an appropriate time to remember that countless lives were lost or destroyed as a result of the needless use of asbestos containing products.” Company officials said the plan is key to the bankruptcy reorganisation that will include the cancellation of existing stock and payments to...

What Some Senators Have to Say About the FAIR ACT

The FAIR ACT was introduced onto the U.S. Senate floor early in 2006.  The Act would prohibit any lawsuit being filed to recover for any asbestos-related disease.  Instead, a trust fund would be set up.  One major problem with the trust fund concept is that none of the companies that are supposed to contribute to it are willing to divulge how much they would individually contribute.  Independent analysts have concluded there will not be enough funds available to adequately cover the claims.  The trust fund will very quickly go bankrupt. The FAIR ACT is bad news for anyone who has an asbestos-related disease. The FAIR ACT came up for a vote in the Senate in the Spring.  It failed to pass by only one vote. But it did not die forever. It may come up for another vote in June when Congress reconvenes. Because the FAIR ACT would have such a devastating effect on the ability of men and women diagnosed with mesothelioma to recover fair damages, I have kept in touch with several Senators to see how they feel about the proposed legislation.  On March 24th I had breakfast with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) in San Francisco. Senator Nelson voted against the FAIR ACT earlier this Spring.  He indicated that he understood that certain huge corporations stood to gain from having the FAIR ACT pass, but that individuals would have their rights taken away.  He is resolved to oppose the ACT if it does come up for another vote. On April 9th I had lunch with Harry Reid (D-NV).  Senator Reid is the Senate minority leader.  He was instrumental in gathering the support necessary to...

Another asbestos company exits bankruptcy

ABB Ltd said no appeals had been filed by an end-March deadline against a reorganisation plan for its US unit CE, meaning the plan is final and effectively drawing a line under a damaging 16 year legal battle over asbestos compensation for the Swiss/Swedish engineering group. ‘This is a milestone in the history of ABB,’ CEO Fred Kindle said in a statement Saturday. ‘We are very glad to have a resolution of this important issue, which removes significant uncertainty that has harmed ABB over the years.’ Under the plan, which will protect ABB and its subsidiaries against current and future asbestos claims, ABB has committed 1.43 bln usd to a trust fund for asbestos claims against CE (Combustion Engineering). A US District Court approved the plan on Feb 28 but the ruling was subject to a 30-day appeals period, which has now passed. CE built industrial boilers insulated with asbestos, which can cause long-term damage to the lungs, including cancer, and when it took over the US company in 1990, ABB inherited lawsuits from thousands of...