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White House expresses 'serious concerns' about parts of asbestos bill

[JURIST] The White House on Wednesday said it has serious concerns over parts of the proposed Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act [PDF text; bill summary], which is currently being debated in the US Senate [JURIST report]. The bill, if passed, would establish a $140 billion fund [JURIST report] financed by asbestos manufacturers, users, and insurers to pay claims brought by victims exposed to the disease-causing mineral, in lieu of litigation. According to a White House statement [PDF], the administration wants "to strengthen and improve this important legislation," though specific concerns were not listed. In a speech [transcript] last week, President Bush indicated that he would support a bill that would pay only those who are sick, would speed up payments and would provide "certainty in the system" to protect businesses that were not involved in creating the asbestos problem.

One of the bill's principal sponsors, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) [official website], has acknowledged that the bill in its current form is not perfect, but has said that what is proposed is better than the current system. Other concerns about the fund include the possibility that the $140 billion will not cover the costs of all asbestos claims, with some Senate Democrats predicting that the fund could fall short by as much as $150 billion. Asbestos [EPA website; JURIST news archive] was widely used in the 1970s for insulation and fireproofing and has been found to cause cancer and other complications when inhaled, although health problems may not occur for several decades. AP has more.

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