Since the 70s, the congress of the United States has disputed over a proposed asbestos legislation. This was a result of a discussion that took place previously regarding the so called ‘Black Lung Bill’, which is known to be the first mention of asbestos in a legislative context.
The material asbestos consists of a group of fibers that can be potentially dangerous to humans when inhaled or ingested. Asbestos exposure causes very serious diseases such as asbestosis and lung cancer, as well as the fatal mesothelioma, which claims thousands of lives year after year. Especially former workers who held jobs in the asbestos manufacturing, building and construction industries are at a high risk of developing one of the aforementioned health conditions. However, there is also a significant amount of people who is exposed to the material in their living environment, since asbestos products were liberally and widely used across the country, primarily for insulation purposes.
But it is not only the US Congress who plays a major role in crafting the pending asbestos legislation. The Occupational Health Administration, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) are among several other interest groups who weigh in with their ideas and arguments.
Over the past 10 years, a drafted asbestos legislation was brought before Congress almost every year. In the meantime the arguments and debates between representatives of the asbestos victim’s rights, and business protection interest groups continue to go on. On one hand we have the legitimate concern based on the fact that there are undeniable health dangers to anyone who is exposed to asbestos. One the other we see the concerns of the businesses and insurance companies who often feel being taken advantage of. Because according to them, they were forced to pay out compensations to individuals who weren’t actually sick, but still got awarded with a settlement, because of their prospective risk of developing an asbestos related disease at some point in the future.
In 1999, the ‘Fairness Asbestos Compensation Act’ was proposed. The proposal included the installation of a government body with the sole responsibility of resolving asbestos settlement lawsuits, before they even come to a court. This would help to unclog the court systems and help them to deal only with relevant cases, where a claim requires a verdict of a judge and jury. A few similar bills were introduced later on; some actually passed the US Senate, but didn’t receive the sufficient amount of votes to become law.
The ‘Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act’ was proposed in 2004, with the objective of creating a fund over approximately $125 billion reserved for compensation asbestos victims. It was voted down, eventually.
In sum: the battle continues. Corporations and insurance companies want immunity and protection from illegitimate claims, whereas the asbestos victims and their legal representatives continue to urge the government to come up with a solution. Asbestos litigation is still an issue and a decision is yet to be made.