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
Electrics 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
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.
|Paul Safchuck, President
James Fite, National Secretary
Additional information from: Jonathan Bennett
Public Affairs Director, New York Committee for Occupational Safety and
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
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
Public Affairs Director, New York Committee for Occupational Safety and
275 7th Ave., New York, N.Y. 10001
Tel: 212-627-3900 ext. 14
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 email@example.com
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.
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
11/17/05: White Lung Mourns Jose
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
Asbestos Victim's Superfund
Asbestos Watch March 14, 2005 (Maryland
chapter of the White Lung Association meetings)
Directorate of Safety, Health,
and Environment (open letter)
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.
The White Lung Association stands
in opposition to The Specter Bill (S.852)
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.
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
May 2003, the Global Environment & Technology Foundation developed
the "Asbestos Strategies" report.
The latest issue is Spring 2005
The latest issue is January 4, 2007
December 17, 2000 is Asbestos Hazard Awareness Day
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
Paul Safchuck May
Nicholson Dies at 70
Ray Sentes Brave
Fighter For Asbestos Victims