News Releases

Sen. Murray and Asbestos Victims Speak Out Over Concerns with the Asbestos Compensation Reform Legislation

Jun 03 2003

"If we are going to protect corporations far into the future, we need to protect victims far into the future," Murray said.

Video of Sen. Murray's Remarks



(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – The Senate sponsor of legislation to ban the use of asbestos in America held a press conference today with two victims of asbestos to share their concerns over the compensation reform legislation making its way through the Senate.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) was joined by Brian Harvey, a Mesothelioma survivor from Marysville, Washington and Gayla Benefield from Libby, Montana, who lost both parents to asbestos-related diseases, and has now been diagnosed herself.



Neither asbestos victim would receive compensation under the plan drafted in the Senate. The Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the legislation on Wednesday.



Murray has three primary concerns about the proposal, and cited a fourth glaring deficiency in the bill, which she called "the elephant in the room."



First, the bill only covers workers exposed to asbestos on the job, and ignores anyone who works on their brakes at home, anyone exposed to asbestos-tainted attic insulation, and anyone who happened to live near an asbestos processing facility.



Second, the bill sets restrictive medical criteria, which could leave out deserving victims.



And third, the size of the trust fund, even at $108 billion, may not be enough to compensate victims who have or may develop an asbestos-related disease. Furthermore, the compensation levels seem arbitrarily low, for example, a victim who develops lung cancer could get as little as $50,000.



Finally, Murray addressed the "elephant in the room" for asbestos legislation. While many Americans believe asbestos was banned years ago, it continues to be put into consumer products even today. In 2001, Americans consumed 13,000 metric tons of asbestos – in brake pads, gaskets, roofing shingles and sealants.



If Congress is to prevent any future lawsuits, then it must prevent more asbestos casualties by banning the use of the material.



"If we are going to cap the number of people who can be compensated, the least we can do is stop adding to the problem," said Murray. "If we are going to protect corporations far into the future, we need to protect victims far into the future by banning asbestos once and for all."



Brian Harvey and Gayla Benefield also spoke at the news conference and strongly denounced the proposal. Despite their asbestos-related diseases, neither victim would be compensated under the current plan.



Mr. Harvey's health insurance has helped cover his considerable medical expenses and any insurance coverage would be deducted from the federal compensation under the Senate bill.



Ms. Benefield would not be compensated because she was exposed to asbestos fibers that her father unwittingly brought home on his clothing. The proposal would only provide compensation for victims who were exposed in the workplace.



"This bill will not cover all asbestos victims. Its sets narrow medical criteria for eligibility, and the fund may not be able to compensate all deserving victims. I hope that in the coming weeks we can make improvements to this legislation and give asbestos victims a fair shake," said Murray.

Remarks by Senator Murray at a Press Conference on the Proposed Asbestos Compensation Plan

"Thank you all for being here.



Brian Harvey joins us from Marysville, Washington. He has overcome huge obstacles to be with us today, and we all find strength in his incredible spirit. And Gayla Benefield from Libby, Montana knows too well the suffering caused by asbestos exposure.



Thank you again for making the trip to share your stories of courage.



Tomorrow the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the asbestos compensation legislation. The bill aims to compensate asbestos victims for their struggles – the medical bills, the care of dependents, the loss of work, even the loss of life.

Thousands of victims have been forced to go to court -- the one place where every citizen may seek justice under the law. The asbestos compensation legislation being proposed would end all of that. It would prevent any American – and anyone far into the future – who develops an asbestos-related disease from pursuing a legal remedy.



Now, we know that asbestos exposure today may not reveal itself for 20 or 30 years. It's like we are living in a time capsule, because those who are sick today may have been exposed a generation ago. The dust generated from the destruction of the World Trade Center contained asbestos fibers from insulation and other materials used to build the towers.



How many firefighters and police officers, how many mothers and fathers and children living nearby – may develop an asbestos disease in the future? We can't say.



Congress is proposing to take away a legal right forever. We better make sure it's done right.



So with all of this in mind, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing tomorrow.



I have several concerns about the current proposal, and then I'd like to talk about the one glaring problem that the proposal fails to address.



My first concern is that the bill only covers workers exposed to asbestos on the job, and ignores everyone else. Anyone who works on their brakes at home, anyone who is exposed to Vermiculite insulation in his or her attic, anyone who is exposed simply by living near an asbestos processing facility, would be left out.



The EPA itself estimates that as many as 35 million homes, schools, and businesses could contain asbestos-tainted Zonolite insulation. Should homeowners be excluded?



Second, the legislation sets restrictive medical criteria to determine who would qualify to be compensated for an asbestos-related sickness. Even the President of the American Thoracic Society, Dr. Thomas Martin, admits that similar standards endorsed by the American Bar Association last February are too narrow, and could leave out deserving victims. Since this legislation would bar all future legal action, Congress must remember that if someone is turned down, they have no other recourse in the courts.



Third, the total size of the trust fund, even at $108 billion may not be sufficient. There is no federal backstop to guarantee compensation – like the FDIC does for a bank – to ensure that future victims would be covered. Furthermore, the funding levels seem arbitrarily low. A victim who develops lung cancer from asbestos exposure could get as little as $50,000. So as Senators propose putting a price tag on human health or premature death, we must carefully consider the consequences of our actions.



Today we will hear from two asbestos survivors, to better understand the human dimension of asbestos. But before we do, let me raise the most obvious shortcoming of this legislation.



Congress is considering the elimination of all future asbestos legal actions. And if Congress is going to prevent any future lawsuits, then Congress must try to prevent any more asbestos casualties, by banning the use of asbestos.



Why on earth does Congress allow thousands of tons of asbestos to continue to be put into consumer products every year? This is the elephant in the room for this legislation. It is the most obvious, yet least discussed, aspect of asbestos.



In 2001, American consumed 13,000 metric tons of asbestos. It's in brake pads and gaskets, roofing shingles and roofing sealants. Like most Americans, I had thought asbestos was banned long ago. But the asbestos industry sued to overturn the ban in 1991, and the first Bush Administration chose not to appeal. If we are going to cap the number of people who can be compensated for asbestos exposure, then the least we can do is stop adding to the problem.



That's why I have introduced the "Ban Asbestos in America Act." It would ban – once and for all – the use of asbestos in this country. It would also require more research into asbestos-related cancers, and create a national Mesothelioma registry to help track where Americans may still be developing this deadly disease. So, again, the bill will not cover all asbestos victims, it sets narrow medical criteria for determining who is eligible, and the fund may not be able to compensate all deserving people.



Finally, the bill tries to treat the symptoms of asbestos exposure while doing nothing to prevent more people from getting sick because it does not ban asbestos altogether. I hope that in the coming weeks we can make improvements in this legislation."