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Bill in Congress outrages victims of workplace asbestos exposure

Asbestos, a toxic substance known to cause the cancer mesothelioma, remains legal in a number of industrial applications throughout the United States, including New Jersey. Trust funds set up by corporations that use asbestos provide funds to compensate sick workers, but a new bill being considered in the U.S. House of Representatives intends to add layers of difficulty to the process of making a claim for benefits.

The legislation aims to weed out supposedly abusive or outright false claims for costs attributed to asbestos-related diseases. If it becomes law, then victims or their survivors would need to provide extra information when filing a claim, including work histories and medical information. A letter addressed to lawmakers from nine affected workers and widows strongly criticized the bill. They expressed their doubts that any evidence existed that pointed to abuse of the trust funds. In their opinion, the bill would treat asbestos victims as criminals instead of victims of toxic workplace exposures.

Asbestos exposure remains a pervasive danger to many workers. The substance lurks in buildings and infrastructure, and utility, demolition or construction workers risk exposure when they do their jobs. In one example, a worker who installed fiber-optic cables a decade ago contracted mesothelioma. His employer did not advise him about taking precautions with the toxic materials.

In addition to promoting safety, most employers must maintain workers' compensation insurance to cover medical care for employees who are injured at work or who have contracted an occupational disease. To collect benefits, however, a worker must meet strict documentation and reporting deadlines, and thus many choose to obtain the assistance of an attorney during the process.

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