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December 13, 2018

Asbestos 'needs a ban and a plan' – petition presented

Workers have today presented a petition signed by over a thousand New Zealanders calling on the Government to ban the importation of asbestos and develop a comprehensive plan for the removal of all existing asbestos in New Zealand.

“Asbestos is the biggest workplace killer in New Zealand. It kills at least 170 workers annually: more than twice as many workers as accidental deaths at work. The number of people dying from asbestos related diseases (lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis) is increasing and the Government projections are that it will peak at 300: higher than the road toll,” said CTU Secretary, Sam Huggard.

“New Zealand is out of step with other developed countries. We are still importing asbestos containing products. Australia prohibited the import of all asbestos containing products in 2003. Similar bans in the United Kingdom date to the late 1990s.”

“The CTU, on behalf of all workers, calls for the Government to implement a total ban on the importation of asbestos containing materials. This action is overdue and well behind the action which other countries have taken.”

“We are very concerned about asbestos exposure in Christchurch. Public health experts continue to raise concerns about what the impact will be for workers will be in the decades to come.”

“New regulations are proposed that will significantly assist in the management of asbestos: These should be given the highest priority.”

“However, much more action is needed. The CTU recommends a twelve-point plan to deal with asbestos.”

“Many hundreds more people will die as a result of exposure in the next 50 years. We should act now to ensure that this is the lowest number possible, and that there are no more unnecessary exposures to asbestos,” said Huggard.

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Asbestos 'needs a ban and a plan' – petition presented

Asbestos found in NSW home as free testing widens in Mr Fluffy saga

The first property to test positive for loose-fill asbestos as part of the NSW government’s free testing program has been identified.

The property is located within the Berrigan Shire Council area, an agricultural area in the southern Riverina – halfway between Albury and Echuca.

It is the first home to provide a positive result since the NSW government began offering free voluntary roof insulation testing in August last year. So far, 630 tests across the state have been completed. The Berrigan property brings to 58 the number of NSW homes found to contain loose-fill asbestos. These include 14 houses and one block of 38 units in Queanbeyan, a home in the Yass Valley, one in Bungendore, one in Lithgow, one in Parramatta and one in Manly.

Three other affected homes have been demolished. All those properties were identified via historical records, prior to the positive Berrigan test.

Last August the Heads of Asbestos Coordination Authorities commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct an independent investigation into the number of NSW properties affected by loose-fill asbestos supplied by two known companies, the ACT’s Mr Fluffy and a second contractor Bowsers Asphalt, which was targeting large non-residential buildings in NSW.

A spokesman for the NSW government said a technical assessment would now be conducted on the positive asbestos sample to try and determine its origin.

A total of 1752 properties across 26 NSW Local Government Areas have registered for the free testing program which will run until August.

The newly discovered home will also be subject to an asbestos assessment to advise owners whether the living spaces are adequately sealed and whether “asbestos pathways (are) appropriately controlled”.

The Heads of Asbestos Coordination Authorities said “testing of homes with loose-fill asbestos insulation has shown that exposure is likely to be very low if the asbestos is undisturbed and remains sealed off at all points where entry of asbestos into living areas can occur, including cornices, architraves, around vents, light fittings, manholes and the tops of cupboards.”

NSW residents who are living in homes built before 1980 can register online or call Service NSW to see if they are eligible to have their property tested.

In December, the NSW government announced an inquiry into the potential demolition of loose asbestos-affected homes, in line with action taken by the ACT government.

NSW Finance Minister Dominic Perrottet also announced a financial assistance package for NSW residents who were confirmed to have Mr Fluffy in their homes, providing the same levels of assistance as in the ACT.

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Asbestos found in NSW home as free testing widens in Mr Fluffy saga

Work safety watchdog rejects union's asbestos claims

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“My belief is we have a competent group of removalists at the moment, there have been issues from time to time, but it’s not like there’s some widespread deficiency in the skill set,” Mr McCabe said.

“It won’t be like the pink batts [home insulation rollout] work, because pretty much everyone can do that work, where the drive was to get the money out the door for economic stimulus.

“The stress here is to get the money to owners, not removalists.”

CFMEU ACT branch secretary Dean Hall said it was critical the ACT government scrutinised applicants and spent what was needed to ensure the highest standard of removalist work.

“Everyone in the industry knows that there are some very problematic individuals and companies in the industry,” Mr Hall said.

“If it goes to an aggressive competitive tender process it’s going to serve the cowboys.”

Mr Hall said he was aware of removalists on a number of sites in recent years who had been seen, and in at least one case photographed, in asbestos-related exclusion zones without wearing the correct respiratory gear.

He also raised concerns about the alleged failure of some removalists to decontaminate before eating or having a cigarette.

Mr McCabe said WorkSafe had taken action in relation to a 2012 incident captured in CFMEU photographs, but there were only a small number of cases where removalists were proven to have the done the wrong thing.

He said recently announced restrictions and direct oversight of removalists by WorkSafe would ensure wider scrutiny.

Fyshwick asbestos assessor Peter Hengst said he had found no problems with ACT removalists and did not know of any local “cowboys”.

“Because I’m an assessor I often do inspections for other companies, and I find their standards pretty good,” Mr Hengst said.

Now working for Ozbestos, he began as an asbestos removalist in 1985 and became an assessor in 2007.

He said he welcomed moves to strengthen Worksafe oversight, after now-stark Fluffy memories from his past days as an electrician.

“I remember crawling through roofs thinking this [stuff] is brilliant, it’s not itchy.”

There were 70 Class A asbestos removalist licences this week, the only ACT licence which allows the removal of friable asbestos, including that used as loose-fill insulation, but Mr McCabe said the number of removalists who operated in Canberra was “barely in the double figures”.

He said he would be surprised if there were 20-30 used across the clean-up and demolition of the 1021 Mr Fluffy homes across the next five years.

“We’ll have a very close look at anyone we’re not familiar with,” he said.

Tell us your thoughts: Email: sunday@canberratimes.com.au











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Work safety watchdog rejects union's asbestos claims

Asbestos scare: 1,300 O.C. students now without a school

A beleaguered Huntington Beach school district has now closed three of its campuses because of an asbestos scare, leaving 1,300 students without a school to attend.

The three grade schools have been closed since last Monday when parents learned that their children could have been exposed to potentially carcinogenic asbestos while the Ocean View School District worked to modernize school sites.

Since then, hundreds of parents have been uncertain when and where their children would return to the classroom.

The school district is losing about $63,000 a day in state funds because students cannot attend class.

About 100 families have requested that their children be transferred to schools in other districts.

“There’s no way I can trust my son is going to be safe there anymore,” said parent Lily Coffin, who said she hoped to move her son to the neighboring Huntington Beach City School District.

District trustees voted during a special meeting last week to close Lake View, Hope View and Oak View elementary schools for the week, while classrooms were cleaned and tested to make sure they were free of potentially carcinogenic asbestos dust. Lake View was later closed indefinitely, and now the district has decided to keep the other two schools closed indefinitely as well.

“Recently, we received information from our consultants and experts that it is not in the best interest of students and staff to reopen these three schools until we obtain additional information,” said Gustavo Balderas, Ocean View’s superintendent.

While the district has determined it can move students from Lake View to other campuses in the district, it’s unclear what will happen with the 1,300 students from the other campuses.

Ocean View officials have said they were aware that asbestos has been in their schools for decades. However, parents became upset when they learned the district may have been removing the material as part of a large-scale modernization project while students were present.

Ongoing testing revealed there was asbestos in two classrooms at Lake View, while a single asbestos fiber was found in a classroom at Hope View. Test results from Oak View were inconclusive, officials said.

The district said it will test for asbestos during the next several weeks at all 11 schools in the district. The cost of the tests is about $700,000, said Assistant Supt. Roni Ellis.

Construction has been suspended at every school until the summer and the district, along with Cal/OSHA, is investigating whether contractors continued to remove asbestos while students were in classrooms, which would violate state law.

Ocean View officials could not yet provide an estimate of the number of families who have applied for transfers.

The loss of state funds and the cost of asbestos removal could leave the district in financial trouble. Officials said they may end up asking the state to help with costs.

Asbestos is a mineral fiber that until the 1970s was widely used in building products and insulation materials. The fibers can be released into the air during demolition work, repairs and remodeling, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

When Lake View, Oak View and Hope View schools were built decades ago, asbestos was used as fireproofing on metal beams above the ceiling. Over time, the dust began to fall from the beams and settle on top of classroom ceiling tiles, district records show.

Though coming into contact with asbestos that hasn’t been disturbed isn’t harmful, it becomes a hazard when the dust becomes airborne, said Steven Viani, a registered civil engineer and engineering contractor with experience in asbestos and other hazardous materials.

Inhaling high levels of the dust can increase the risk of lung disease that isn’t detected until years later, including a type of cancer called mesothelioma, experts say.

Teachers have expressed concern that they weren’t notified about the asbestos above the tiles and said the district should have placed signs restricting access to limit the risk of the dust becoming airborne.

hannah.fry@latimes.com
Twitter: @HannahFryTCN

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

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Asbestos scare: 1,300 O.C. students now without a school

Rising asbestos liabilities hang over James Hardie profit surge

James Hardie may have doubled its profit this financial year, but potential asbestos liabilities continue to cloud its outlook as a rise in the number of victims surprises the firm.

The building products manufacturer, shrouded in controversy over earlier attempts to escape from or minimise asbestos liabilities, recorded an annual net profit of $US99.5 million for the year to March 31, more than double last year’s.

That net profit result is after $US195.8 million in adjustments for asbestos liabilities that are included in its annual accounts, up from $US117.1 million last year.

James Hardie has an obligation to put up to 35 per cent of its operating cash flow into the Asbestos Injuries Compensation Fund, which provides payouts to Australian victims of asbestos-related diseases.

Under the deal, each year an independent actuarial report is required to estimate the likely amount of asbestos liabilities for James Hardie, its related entities and former businesses which are covered by the compensation fund.

KPMG’s current estimate of total Australian asbestos liabilities that would need to be met by the AICF is $1.87 billion, after accounting for insurance recoveries.

That estimate is up almost $177 million since last year, due mostly to a change in assumptions about when asbestos-related diseases would peak.

KPMG says, without changes to its assumptions, the estimated liability would have been $1.57 billion – a fall from the previous year, largely due to expected claims being made and paid out.

Mesothelioma on the rise

The main reason for the rise in liability, according to the report, is a continued increase in claims by asbestos victims suffering mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer generally affecting the lungs and typically caused by asbestos exposure.

KPMG is budgeting $96 million for extra claims over the next three years and $168 million more over the period from 2017-18 to 2025-26.

James Hardie says actuaries had previously assumed a peak in mesothelioma claims to have occurred in 2010-11, however the past two years of claims have been above expectations.

In the year to March 31, a total of 608 asbestos-related claims were received, a 12 per cent rise from 542 claims the previous year, and well above expectations of 540 claims.

James Hardie says 604 claims were settled in its 2014 financial year, with an average settlement of $253,000, resulting in a total payout of $140.4 million for the year.

Mesothelioma claims jumped almost 20 per cent in the year to March 31 2014, to 370, up from 309 the year before, 259 in 2011-12 and 268 in 2010-11.

KPMG had previously expected only 300 mesothelioma claims in its forecasts for 2013-14.

The actuaries says it is too early to tell whether the higher number of claims will be sustained based on one year’s worth of increased claims.

Peak in disease may be decades off

However, the president of the Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia, Barry Robson, says his organisation, and others representing victims, believe the peak in cases may still be decades away.

“The increase is in the second wave with people that have done home renovations, and we’re seeing younger people and women are now presenting,” he told ABC News Online.

Mr Robson says people as young as in their 40s are presenting with this rare form of cancer, and more cases are also being picked up by doctors, who are now better informed about the symptoms of asbestos-related illnesses.

“Better experts than I am are now looking at 2035 as a possible peak,” he said.

“As doctors become more and more aware of what an asbestos disease looks like in their patients, then more and more people will be registered with an asbestos-related disease.”

The worse financial news for James Hardie is that mesothelioma claims are far more expensive for the company, with the average settlement sitting at $308,000, compared to around $100,000 for asbestosis or lung cancer.

There were also seven “large” mesothelioma claims above $1 million over the past year, worth a total of $11.6 million – no other forms of asbestos-related disease carried such large payouts.

Mr Robson says the size of asbestos-disease payouts is determined by the courts or in settlement negotiations with reference to many factors, including age, occupation and the number of dependents the victim has.

“Take the case of a lawyer, who I know got over a million dollars, he had a very young daughter – I think at the time of his death she was around six years of age,” Mr Robson said.

“He contracted mesothelioma when he was working his way through uni, he was working on building sites, so while he was going to law school he was exposed and then later on he died from meso.”

Is the fund adequately funded?

The company warns that, if claims do not start reducing until after 2018-19 the estimated claims total could rise a further 22 per cent on top of this financial year’s increase.

KPMG’s high scenario puts the liability for future claims at almost $3 billion, versus the central estimate of $1.87 billion.

James Hardie’s chief financial officer Matt Marsh says the impact on the company’s bottom line will be capped, and it is fulfilling all its requirements to the asbestos compensation fund.

“We’ll make a payment in July of $US113 million and that will be in compliance with our obligation under the [agreement] to contribute up to 35 per cent of our operating cash flow,” he told analysts on an investor briefing.

“The second part of that question is will that be enough to pay for the liabilities, and that’s a question that’s better asked of the AICF [Asbestos Injuries Compensation Fund].”

Unfortunately, when the ABC rang the AICF early this afternoon to ask it that question the call went to message bank and has not yet been returned.

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Rising asbestos liabilities hang over James Hardie profit surge

Asbestos risk: Pupils to study at neighbouring school

Bayfield School, Herne Bay. Photo / Jason Dorday.
Bayfield School, Herne Bay. Photo / Jason Dorday.

Pupils from an asbestos-contaminated Auckland primary school will be taught at a neighbouring school until the all-clear is given.

Bayfield School in Herne Bay will merge with Ponsonby Primary School for a week while a classroom block with asbestos in its cladding is completely removed from the decile 10 school.

Bayfield Board of Trustees’ chairman David McPherson said the roll of about 350 Bayfield pupils won’t have to squeeze into Ponsonby Primary classrooms.

“We’re not merging classes. Ponsonby has available spaces for our kids – its hall and a number of rooms. There has been talk about combining sports events – that’s part of what would be happening normally.”

The Ministry of Education said schools had freedom to determine arrangements for themselves. A media representative said she was unaware of restrictions about the number of pupils or teachers allowed in a single room.

All of Bayfield will remain closed until a concrete slab can be removed from an old building. “It makes sense to complete the entirety of the demolition,” Mr McPherson said.

His own son will go from Bayfield to Ponsonby Primary this week. “He’s excited about the chance of a new experience, spending a week at a different school,” Mr McPherson said. “Children are resilient and they’ll enjoy it.”

The parent who raised the alarm over asbestos said the coming week would not be without anxiety.

Brett Archer said he organised testing when he noticed asbestos dust coming from cladding on a six-classroom block being demolished at Bayfield School. He said his children wanted to know whether the other kids would be at Ponsonby and where their class would be.

“There’s anxiety – but kids will be kids, they’ll cope well. It’ll be quite a novelty.”

Mr Archer first raised concerns on May 2 in response to an email about the demolition, but said it took until May 7 for independently verified asbestos test results, which he organised, to come back. Mr Archer also inspected the paperwork of the demolition workers himself.

“Everyone was shellshocked, they hadn’t quite realised 1) what the hell was going on and 2) the disjoint between what was happening on site and the paperwork.”

Ministry of Education Head of Education Infrastructure Service, Kim Shannon, told media on Thursday that testing that day found no sign of any asbestos contamination outside the immediate work site area, although further testing would be done.

Mr Archer, who deals with asbestos contamination on a daily basis, said his children’s health and safety was his key concern.

“The MOE has jumped in ferociously. I’m taking comfort that Worksafe and the Board and Ministry of Health are involved. But it took six days for me to get to the point of getting the school closed.

“It’s an absolute disaster any way you look at it; the impact on learning. It’s huge,” Mr Archer said.

Mr McPherson, a lawyer at Bell Gully, continued meeting with Bayfield’s principal and the board this afternoon.

APNZ

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Asbestos risk: Pupils to study at neighbouring school

Veterans call for end to asbestos lawsuit bill

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Veterans opposed to a bill affecting asbestos-exposure lawsuits in Wisconsin urged Gov. Scott Walker on Monday to stop the measure, arguing that it would deny justice to asbestos victims.

The heavily lobbied proposal would require plaintiffs who have suffered from asbestos exposure to reveal how many businesses their attorneys plan to sue. They would also have to go after money from an asbestos trust before they could sue for more in court.

Proponents, including Wisconsin’s chamber of commerce and Republican sponsors, argue the bill is needed to prevent filing multiple claims against both trust funds set up to pay victims of asbestos exposure as well as individual businesses.

Opponents who gathered Monday strongly disagreed.

“If you think that the bill is protecting the rights of victims, it is not. It is about protecting corporations,” said a tearful Renee Simpson, state commander of the Wisconsin Veterans of Foreign Wars. She held up a picture of her dad, a U.S. Army veteran, who died in 2013 nine months after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, a form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure.

The Senate passed the bill last week on a narrow 17-16 vote. A similar version previously passed the Assembly and it’s expected to pass again Thursday, the last day of the session, which would send it to Walker.

Walker said Monday in Milwaukee that he has heard from veterans on both sides of the issue, and he’s waiting to see what happens in the Legislature.

“I haven’t looked at the particulars of the bill, but as I understand it, it’s really about keeping trial attorneys from double dipping,” Walker said when asked about the issue.

The issue has divided veterans. Steve Chesna, state commander of AMVETS, sent a letter in January supporting the bill, saying it will ensure that “valuable resources are not depleted by unscrupulous lawyers convincing clients to double and triple dip for one individual for one claim.”

That concern over plaintiffs suing both businesses and the trust funds in order to maximize their awards has been the rallying cry of proponents from the beginning, said Jason Johns, legislative officer for the Wisconsin Military Order of the Purple Heart.

But under changes made to the bill by the Senate “there’s no way to hide a claim,” Johns said. The bill now requires those bringing a lawsuit to disclose within 30 days whether they are also seeking money from a trust, Johns said.

The bill originally required there to be a six-month delay before a trial could start, after a claim was stated, but the Senate removed that. Now it is all about disclosing multiple claims, said its sponsor, Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend.

“I don’t know what anyone would object to,” he said.

Asbestos, a building material linked with cancer and other health problems, has been the subject of lawsuits awarding billions of dollars in damages. As health concerns became clearer, and the number of lawsuits swelled, companies forced into bankruptcy because of asbestos litigation transferred their assets and liabilities to trusts established to pay current and future asbestos victims.

At least 100 companies have gone into bankruptcy in part from liabilities tied to asbestos, according to a 2011 Government Accountability Office report. There are 60 asbestos trusts, with about $37 billion in assets, according to the GAO report.

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Veterans call for end to asbestos lawsuit bill

Asbestos fears in wake of Christine

Residents affected by ex-tropical cyclone Christine are warned over the risk of exposure to asbestos.

Residents affected by ex-tropical cyclone Christine are warned over the risk of exposure to asbestos after buildings were hammered earlier in the week.

The cyclonic winds and pelting rain may have passed by Western Australia’s Pilbara and Kimberley regions, however, ex-tropical cyclone Christine has exposed a fresh yet familiar danger for residents to contend with.

Asbestos in buildings, fencing and other building products dislodged or damaged during the wild weather now pose an additional health risk to Pilbara residents if they are exposed to the cancer-causing material.

Slater and Gordon asbestos lawyer Laine McDonald issued the warning to residents of the risks of asbestos exposure during the cleaning up of properties, homes and businesses battered by Christine.

“Once asbestos is disturbed, it can pose a real danger to health,” Ms McDonald said.

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“Residents who are returning to their homes and businesses could be at risk of exposure, especially if they start cleaning up without the right protection.

“While it’s difficult to tell if a structure contains asbestos, if it was built in the mid-1980s – the time when this common building product was phased out – you assume there’s a risk.”

It’s believe about 600 Australian are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year.

Asbestos was commonly used as a construction material throughout the Pilbara.

It was mined in Wittenoom, 1100 kilometres north-east of Perth in the Pilbara, before the town was evacuated and essentially wiped off the map by authorities.

“Asbestos products damaged by severe storms like cyclone Christine can release a very dangerous dust which, once breathed in, can cause mesothelioma, lung cancer and other serious illnesses,” Ms McDonald said.

“Each year around 250 Western Australians die from asbestos-related diseases, with a lag of about 30-40 years between exposure and diagnosis of an illness.

“Asbestos products are still in our homes, businesses and communities more than 40 years after the Wittenoom mine closed, so it’s a hazard that continues to confront us all.”

Despite the category three cyclone coming within about 100 kilometres of the Town of Port Hedland, mayor Kelly Howlett said the district had escaped with minor damage, mostly to the area’s natural landscape.

“We’ve got a lot of cleaning up to do but we were very fortunate,” Cr Howlett said.

“We’ve not seen any bad structural damage, just a few trees down, a lot of sand swept up from the beach and a bit of flooding.”

Cr Howlett said new and updated property development in the region had reduced the number of buildings containing asbestos.

“It’s generally been replaced in the past decade … but there’s still quite a bit.”

She said the town’s asbestos handling and removal safety procedures were “well known” to residents.

“Residents need to get relevant council approval [to remove asbestos material], but they’re quite well versed in that.”

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Asbestos fears in wake of Christine

Asbestos Advice Helpline Welcome New Fund for Mesothelioma Compensation

These new proposals represent a significant improvement when compared to the current level of provision

(PRWEB UK) 5 December 2013

The Asbestos Advice Helpline, a celebrated team of dedicated asbestos litigators, has applauded a new decision which means that thousands of mesothelioma sufferers over the next 10 years will be able to claim from a £350 million fund to attain some measure of recompense for their damages. Described as a significant breakthrough, the amendments mean that sufferers who were previously disqualified from claiming compensation may now be eligible to do so.

Mesothelioma is an invariably lethal disease that typically overcomes its victims within an average timeframe of 9 months following diagnosis. The mesothelioma condition is almost exclusively confined to those professions that came into regular contact with asbestos dust prior to the substance being banned at the end of the 1990s, and more than 2,000 people die every year due to its influence. The quantity of reported incidents is only expected to increase over the next 3 years, and the number of deaths is expected to total in excess of 60,000.

A spokesperson from the Asbestos Advice Helpline has said: “These new proposals represent a significant improvement when compared to the current level of provision. In previous years, many victims have been inexcusably left without adequate support following a mesothelioma diagnosis, and this scheme goes some way towards rectifying a situation that has been in sore need of attention for a number of decades”.

Previously, a pair of relevant legislations has allowed mesothelioma claims to be placed up to an average of £20,000. Should the new fund attain parliamentary approval, this amount is anticipated to rise to heights of £115,000. Current government predictions suggest that more than 1000 sufferers will be able to receive this assistance in the next decade and, should the currently debated Mesothelioma Bill be passed without incident, the first payments could well materialise within a maximum of 8 months.

A degree of discontent has been voiced due to proposals that may implement a cut-off point for those claimants who are able to take advantage of the new fund, although the government have stated that an indiscriminate arrangement would be financially unviable. Despite the fund being restricted to sufferers of mesothelioma, and no further provision planned for those who are afflicted with alternative conditions, many campaign groups have hailed the legislation as a considerable degree of progress. The spokesperson from Asbestos Advice Helpline added that: “We welcome these reforms as a notable step in the right direction, and sincerely hope that, in time, they will be able to be expanded to incorporate all asbestos related conditions”.

The Asbestos Advice Helpline was established to help those suffering from asbestos related diseases and individuals who may be entitled to make a claim for compensation. The Asbestos Advice Helpline operates on a no win, no fee policy to help those afflicted (and their families) to deal with the legal procedures of making a claim. Asbestos was widely used before its ban and has affected many trade professionals who worked with it at the time; as well as people who may have come into contact with it since without knowing. Asbestos kills around 4,500 people a year from related diseases including asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer.

The new fund for mesothelioma compensation means that more sufferers from this incredibly serious disease can now take advantage of the compensation that they deserve. For more information, to place a claim with the Asbestos Advice Helpline or to contact them about any of their professional services, visit http://www.asbestosadvicehelpline.com or call the Asbestos Advice Helpline team on 0800 088 7396.


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Asbestos Advice Helpline Welcome New Fund for Mesothelioma Compensation

House approves legislation that requires more disclosures about claims from asbestos trusts

WASHINGTON — The House on Wednesday voted to tighten disclosure requirements from asbestos trusts set up more than 20 years ago to help pay billions of dollars in injury claims.

By 221-199, the House approved a measure requiring asbestos trusts that pay damages to current and future asbestos victims to publish detailed quarterly reports with bankruptcy courts. The information must include names of new claimants and how much money the trust has paid out, under the legislation.

House Republicans say the bill — backed by the business community and the Chamber of Commerce — would provide oversight to asbestos trusts and ensure funds are available for future victims.

Most House Democrats opposed the measure, citing privacy concerns. The bill is likely to die in the House. The Democratic controlled Senate has no plans to take up the bill and the White House on Tuesday said President Barack Obama would veto it.

Asbestos, a building material linked with cancer and other health problems, has been the subject of lawsuits awarding billions of dollars in damages. As health concerns became clearer, and the number of lawsuits swelled, companies forced into bankruptcy because of asbestos litigation transferred their assets and liabilities to trusts established to pay current and future asbestos victims.

At least 100 companies have gone into bankruptcy at least in part from liabilities tied to asbestos, according to a 2011 Government Accountability Office report. There are 60 asbestos trusts, with about $37 billion in assets, according to the GAO report.

Republicans say those trusts are ripe for fraud because of scant disclosure requirements.

Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, who wrote the bill, said more oversight is needed to prevent people from filing claims with multiple trusts, or fraudulent claims. Trusts are in danger of running out of money if nothing’s done, he said.

“We’ve got to protect this for future generations,” Farenthold said. “We simply ask that we know who is getting what out of these trusts.”

Democrats said the bill would subject asbestos victims to new privacy concerns because their name and the last four digits of their Social Security numbers would be public under the law.

“Every crook in the world with Internet access could use this information,” said Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga.

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House approves legislation that requires more disclosures about claims from asbestos trusts