Asbestos is the quintessential example of corporations knowing that they were marketing deadly products and covering up the evidence for profit. By the 1930s, asbestos manufacturers were aware that their workers were dying at alarming rates. Yet they hid the dangers for more than half a century.
Asbestos-related diseases have a 20 to 50 year latency period, which means many of those exposed decades earlier are dying now. In fact, to this day, diseases linked to asbestos exposure kill at least 10,000 Americans every year, and are projected to kill 100,000 more over the next decade.
Workers exposed to asbestos have begun to receive justice in the courts. But the corporations that have profited from asbestos are trying to close the courthouse doors. Front groups for the asbestos industry are working hard to pass legislation that delays justice and allows corporations to deny accountability.
As the civil justice system uncovered internal industry documents revealing a breathtaking disregard for human life,the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) ran a campaign to let the asbestos industry off-the-hook. The groups have assisted asbestos corporations in covering-up the dangers of asbestos, vilifying the victims, misleading the public with propaganda and working to limit accountability through legislation.
- Asbestos exposure causes approximately 10,000 deaths every year. [Environmental Working Group]
- Asbestos is still legal in the United States.
- Time is of the essence – most victims of asbestos-related diseases die within one to two years after diagnosis.
The “Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency (FACT) Act of 2013” (H.R.982), is part of the latest tactic implemented by ALEC and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to let the asbestos industry off the hook by violating victims' privacy and delaying and denying justice until victims die. This strategy focuses on an easily misunderstood bankruptcy process and takes a three-pronged approach:
- State legislation: In 2007, ALEC adopted the “Asbestos Claims Transparency Act.” To date, the following states have seen versions of this legislation: California, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
- Judicial Conference: On November 22, 2010, the U.S. Chamber made a direct appeal to the Judicial Conference to change the rules governing bankruptcy law.
- Federal legislation: H.R.982 was introduced on March 6, 2013. In the 112th Congress, H.R. 4369 / S.3076 was introduced in the House and Senate. On January 26, 2015, The FACT Act was again introduced in the 114th Congress as H.R. 526.
Pulling back the curtain on this legislation shows where transparency is needed – with the asbestos industry and the front groups working on its behalf.