Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Asbestos Comp: Who Benefits?

And now for the "other side" of the never-ending asbestos compensation debate. This editorial from the Hampton Roads Pilot puts it all in perspective:
There's an ancient myth that crocodiles lure their prey with moans, then shed a river of mocking tears as they devour their victims. That's why the tens of thousands of sailors and shipyard workers in Hampton Roads who made a living breathing in the dust from asbestos fireproofing should be careful, lest they drown in crocodile tears shed on their behalf by backers of a national asbestos trust fund.
And who will benefit? Guess
It's the asbestos manufacturers, not the victims, who stand to gain the most, according to a report by Mark Peterson, one of the nation's leading experts on asbestos claims.....

By far the biggest beneficiary is Halliburton Co., the global oil services giant that was headed by Vice President Dick Cheney before he was tapped by President Bush. Halliburton agreed in December to resolve 200,000 suits for $4.2 billion. Then, Halliburton hailed the settlement to stockholders as "good news" that leaves the company "strong and healthy."

"In other words, outside of the global asbestos settlement, it will be business as usual," Halliburton said in a statement on its Web site. If a $4 billion settlement is good news, then the trust fund should make Halliburton stockholders positively giddy. The trust fund legislation releases Halliburton from its eternal $4 billion obligation, requiring it to pay only $546 million, for $3.7 billion in savings. Owens Corning saves $2.5 billion in the same way. W.R. Grace gets back $1.7 billion, Honeywell $1.5 billion.

Peterson found that 12 corporations with the largest liabilities would escape $12.5 billion in settlements to which they already have agreed. In a rebuttal to the popular argument that asbestos suits are creating economic havoc by driving companies into bankruptcy and forcing thousands of workers to be laid off, Peterson's analysis showed that employment at the six companies with the largest asbestos liabilities had actually increased since they filed for bankruptcy.

Asbestos: The gift that keeps on giving and giving and...

This article is about Libby, Montana, a
small town of 2,800 residents in remote northwestern Montana [that] has become shorthand for a public health disaster of tragic proportions - and lingering questions of corporate and governmental culpability....An estimated one-third of area residents have the tell-tale signs of asbestos-related lung disease, and more than 200 have died from it.
Gosh. That's terrible. If only we had known....
As news reports and several books have documented over the years, state inspectors found asbestos dust of "considerable toxicity" in the vermiculite processing plant in the 1950s, and yet workers were not adequately protected from it. News accounts and books have also reported that Grace officials were aware of the problem as well - the company-sponsored annual X-rays revealed lung abnormalities in its workers, who say they were not told of the results. Grace has said it informed the workers' physicians.
Grace? Grace? Why does that name sound familiar? Oh yeah. Look up a few paragraphs. They're slated to save about $1.7 billion out of Orrin Hatch's (R-UT) asbestos compensation bill.