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Letter to the New York Times

January 31, 2003

Dear New York Times Editor,

As insurers’ and manufacturers’ lobbyists swarm over Congress to reduce their liabilities to asbestos victims ("Insurer Adds $2 Billion to Asbestos Reserve — Insurers Send ‘Army of Lobbyists’ to Congress", Jan. 15, 2003), we are concerned about what the public will be told. Critical elements of the mass media have substantial involvement as defendants and insurers themselves and can be expected to report the news in ways that reflect their corporate financial interests.

In 1995, Westinghouse purchased CBS; this company is now called Viacom. At Westinghouse, workers insulating steam turbines were heavily exposed to asbestos dust, and some of them had lung conditions that may have been caused by it since 1946. Liability from the sale of turbines and other products has led to 125,000 asbestos personal injury suits pending against Viacom as of last September. The third quarter of 2002, 11,000 new claims were filed and 3300 pending cases were settled.

Around the time Westinghouse bought CBS, General Electric bought NBC. General Electric is also a defendant in asbestos litigation, with an estimated 175,000 personal and property cases pending or in settlement. In addition, GE owns insurance interests with asbestos liabilities. In 1934, General Electric’s President, Gerard Swope, received letters about "probably harmful" conditions where asbestos insulation was processed at GE plants from GE consultant, Harvard occupational disease expert, Alice Hamilton.

We have reports from our members who believe that Disney, who owns ABC, has spend millions in asbestos abatement expenses and has settled or is facing over 3,000 personal injury suits.

In this country there was a massive failure for many years to warn and protect workers against the insidious effects of asbestos. A large part of the responsibility for this is borne by leading industrial corporations such as Westinghouse, GE and Disney. The fact that these enterprises have now captured 3 of the major media outlets that Americans depend upon for news is quite troubling.

As a national asbestos victims’ group, the White Lung Association fears that the incoming Congress will work closely with the White House and business lobbies to try to change the laws to reduce and eliminate liabilities at the expense of the working people who have been victimized by generations of corporate crime.

The importance of the media in informing the public about what is really going on will be vital in the coming months. We have to hope that a critical mass of independent media will fully report the news with journalistic integrity before it is too late.

Sincerely,

Paul Safchuck, President       
James Fite, National Secretary

Additional information from: Jonathan Bennett
Public Affairs Director, New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health

Insurer Adds $2 Billion to Asbestos Reserve - Insurance Industry 'Sends Army of Lobbyists to Congress'

By Joseph B. Treaster
New York Times
January 15, 2003

For the complete article, visit http://www.nytimes.com/2003/01/15/business/15ASBE.html

[For an archive of more than 95 articles and documents concerning asbestos-related occupational and environmental health, visit http://www.nycosh.org/linktopics/asbestos.html]

Underscoring the growing risks of asbestos litigation to the insurance industry, the Travelers Property Casualty Corporation said yesterday that it was setting aside an additional $2.45 billion to pay potential claims for asbestos-related illnesses and deaths.

The new money will raise the company's total reserves for asbestos claims to $3.4 billion and force it to report a net loss of $27 million for 2002, a year in which there was a flurry of big asbestos settlements and new lawsuits.

Travelers, one of the nation's largest insurance companies, is only one of many insurers affected by asbestos claims. Several other big insurers and reinsurers, including the St. Paul Companies; the CNA Financial Corporation in Chicago; and Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett's reinsurance giant, sharply increased their reserves for asbestos losses last year. While the increase by Travelers is by far the biggest, others are likely to follow with substantial increases.

***

Worried about being swamped by the claims, the insurance industry has sent an army of lobbyists to Congress in the hope of getting new legislation that will make it harder to bring these lawsuits.

"There's a tremendous amount of activity in Washington," said Susan Stonehill Claflin, a Travelers executive vice president, in a conference call with investors yesterday. "We expect to see a bill introduced in the House or the Senate in the next month."

***
The insurers are also concerned about another ominous development: lawsuits accusing the insurers of conspiring with their policyholders to conceal the dangers of asbestos from potential plaintiffs. Travelers is fighting suits of this type in West Virginia and Massachusetts.

***

Ms. Claflin, who oversees asbestos claims for Travelers, said that of the tens of thousands of commercial policies sold by the company over the years, the company estimated that 1,097 would account for the $3.4 billion set aside to pay future claims. Some of the biggest claims, she said, are related to policies sold to manufacturers, retailers, installers and distributors of asbestos as well as to building contractors.

***

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Jonathan Bennett
Public Affairs Director, New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health
275 7th Ave., New York, N.Y. 10001
jbennett@nycosh.org
Tel: 212-627-3900 ext. 14
Fax: 212-627-9812

Please visit our website: http://www.nycosh.org.
Subscribe to our free biweekly Update on Safety and Health by sending an e-mail message to subupdate@nycosh.org

NYCOSH is a non-profit provider of occupational safety and health training, advocacy and information (including technical assistance and industrial hygiene consultation) to workers and unions throughout the New York metropolitan area. Our membership consists of more than 250 union organizations and 400 individuals: union members, health and safety activists, injured workers, healthcare workers, attorneys, public health advocates, environmentalists and concerned citizens.

NYCOSH is a union shop. Its staff is represented by the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union (PACE) Local 1-149.

 


Front Page, Week Of:

4/16/05: Spectre to Introduce U.S. Asbestos Bill This Week

5/22/05: Individuals Injured by Asbestos Exposure Oppose Specter's Trust Fund Legislation

10/16/05: Victim's Organizations Form Asbestos Victims Coalition in Opposition to Asbestos Trust Fund Legislation

11/17/05: White Lung Mourns Jose Jesus Pessora

12/18/05: Frist Introducing Asbestos Bill in January

12/04/06: Asbestos Watch Newsletter: Help Celebrate the 27th Anniversary of the WHITE LUNG ASSOCIATION

Jim Fite's Alerts:

Asbestos Victim's Superfund Compensation Program

Asbestos Watch March 14, 2005 (Maryland chapter of the White Lung Association meetings)

Directorate of Safety, Health, and Environment (open letter)

(more...)


Joe Oliver's Alerts:

Joe Oliver, National Board Member and former President of the White Lung Association, has issued a call to all persons to help gather evidence on the conspiracy by asbestos trade organizations to suppress the knowledge about the hazards of asbestos exposure.

If you know anything about this horrific history or have documents which can be used to further prove their heinous crimes, please contact Joe Oliver, WLA, POB 1483, Balt. MD 21203.

Leonard Makowski's Alerts:

The White Lung Association stands in opposition to The Specter Bill (S.852)


WLA Alerts & News

S.1115: Bill to amend the Toxic Substances Control Act to reduce the health risks posed by asbestos-containing products - This bill is supported by the WLA.

Meet Mr. Asbestos

Proceedings of the Asbestos Symposium for the Asian Countries - now available for purchase.

Australia Bans Asbestos!

(more...)

News:

Senator Specter Breaks Promise to Mesothelioma Patient and Research Community

Senate Judiciary Committee returns to Mark-Up on May 11th: Proposed asbestos trust fund legislation will further penalize victims of asbestos-caused diseases

(more...)


World Trade Center Health:

In May 2003, the Global Environment & Technology Foundation developed the "Asbestos Strategies" report.

British Asbestos Newsletter:

The latest issue is Spring 2005

(more...)

News from India:

The latest issue is January 4, 2007

(more...)

Features:

December 17, 2000 is Asbestos Hazard Awareness Day

(more...)

Current Projects:

Asbestos Museum

 

Articles & Publications:

Occupational Respiratory Diseases: Asbestos Associated Disease -- Reprinted from: Maxcy-Rosenau Public Health and Preventative Medicine 11th ed. (John M. Last, Ed.) 1980, Appleton-Century-Crofts

Asbestos Victims Deserve Compensation Not Betrayal: position release by the Board of Directors, White Lung Association

(more...)

Links:


In Memoria:

Paul Safchuck May 21, 2003

Dr. William Nicholson Dies at 70

Ray Sentes Brave Fighter For Asbestos Victims


For more information please contact info whitelung org.