Earlier in January 2016, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that Mesothelioma Help Now, and others who support asbestos victims, has publicly denounced and voiced vehement opposition to. The bill is known as H.R. 1927, “Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2015,” but it contains text from an originally separate bill — H.R. 526, “Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency (FACT) Act of 2015” — that seeks to invade the privacy of and create roadblocks for individuals that are victims of asbestos exposure.
As a ray of hope, Representative Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) assured that the White House has threatened to veto the bill if it makes it that far because “it would impair the enforcement of important federal laws, strain access to the courts, and needlessly threaten the privacy of asbestos victims.”
Unfortunately, those who have been affected by asbestos don’t only have to worry about unfair laws on the federal level — additional hurdles are finding their way to the state-level as well. In Pennsylvania — the state that ranks 3rd in the nation for the highest number of deaths caused by asbestos-related diseases — a bill is being pushed that would make it even harder for asbestos victims to receive fair and swift compensation.
Nothing Fair about the “Fairness in Claims and Transparency Act”
Introduced by Rep. Warren Kampf (R-Chester), Pennsylvania H.B. 1428, the “Fairness in Claims and Transparency Act” alleges to have a few different purposes:
- To provide transparency of claims made against bankruptcy trusts and in the tort system
- To facilitate fair and appropriate compensation to plaintiffs with a rational allocation of responsibility to all persons, whether current defendants of not, consistent with existing State Law
- To preserve the resources of defendants involved in tort claims and bankruptcy trusts to help promote adequate recoveries for deserving plaintiffs.
- To ensure that liabilities properly borne by bankruptcy trusts are not imposed upon defendants in the tort system.
What does this all mean? We see words like “fair,” “transparency,” and “appropriate,” but the truth is that if passed, the law would benefit the asbestos industry — not victims. The entire process of seeking compensation would become harder for asbestos victims and their families because manufacturers of asbestos-containing products could delay litigation. Their right to privacy would be violated by the requirement to disclose confidential settlement information, and the state’s tort law would be completely changed so that the companies responsible for countless asbestos-related deaths would be cleared of all fault.
In an article addressing the problems with H.B. 1428, Linda Reinstein, co-founder and CEO of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), was not shy about making her opinion known. Reinstein wrote:
“Kampf’s proposal, offered at the behest of an industry that has left an outsized trail of death and loss in Pennsylvania, is nothing short of a cynical ploy to allow the very companies responsible for this decades-long tragedy to escape responsibility for their actions.”
The “outsized trail of death and loss in Pennsylvania” is something that has been a terrifying reality in the state for a very long time, which is no doubt why the asbestos industry is going after this part of the U.S.
Ambler, PA: Asbestosville, USA
Asbestos, the naturally occurring mineral that has killed more than 14,200 people in Pennsylvania since 1999, wasn’t always such a dark cloud looming over the state. Starting in the industrial age, it was what brought large-scale manufacturing and jobs to Pennsylvania. Ambler, a suburb of Philadelphia, was especially known for asbestos and the manufacturing of asbestos-containing products, which it began doing back in 1881.
However, as business boomed in Ambler, waste piles of asbestos-containing materials grew. Area residents referred to the huge mounds as “the white mountains of Ambler” and children used to slide down the piles on flattened cardboard boxes. The hills were not white from snow, however – they got their color from the disturbed asbestos fibers that looked like a white dust.
When needle-like asbestos fibers are released into the air and breathed in, they can become lodged in the lungs, stomach, and even heart. Oftentimes, asbestos exposure will not cause a person to become ill right away. Some asbestos-related diseases, like mesothelioma, can take 20-50 years to develop.
That is why, although the area hasn’t been used as a dumping ground since the 1970’s, Ambler residents are still being diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases. Between 2000 and 2009, 142 mesothelioma deaths were reported in Montgomery County, of which Ambler is a part. The national average of mesothelioma deaths is 11 per 100,000 (age-adjusted mortality rate); in Montgomery County, PA, the number is 19.1 deaths per 100,000.
Ambler Residents Still at Risk Due to Slow and Ineffective Clean Up
Ambler, PA is on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) radar, but more than 30 years since the dangers of asbestos have become public knowledge, Ambler residents are still dealing with dangerous levels of asbestos in their town.
When the Superfund Act of 1980 was passed, Ambler was placed on the EPA’s National Priorities List; 2 asbestos dumps were registered for cleanup, but only 1 has been completed. The EPA, however, did not have the resources to remove all of the asbestos waste from the site. According to an estimate from the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE), physically moving the millions of feet of asbestos would have taken 12 straight years of constant trucking to complete. Instead, the EPA put on a Band-Aid of sorts — the agency covered the waste pile in a special substance that prevents any asbestos fibers from escaping into the air. Then, they covered the substance with 2 feet of soil and grass to form a hill.
In December 2015, ACE flew a drone over Ambler to get high quality pictures for the EPA. The asbestos waste piles in Ambler are so large, expansive, and dangerous, that drone photos were necessary to get a full picture of the asbestos cleanup project still at hand in the town.
Pennsylvania Asbestos Victims Should Not Have to Suffer Even More
With the possibility of the “Fairness in Claims and Transparency Act” looming in Pennsylvania, 1 thing is clear — asbestos victims deserve so much more. Pennsylvania residents, especially those in Ambler, have been exposed to a deadly, cancer-causing substance without their knowledge for far too long.
If H.B. 1428 were to pass in the Keystone State, this would be a huge blow to victims of asbestos exposure and their families — and not just those living in Pennsylvania. If supporters of the asbestos industry see the passing of such a bill on a state level, you can be sure they will try to push similar bills in other states.