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Asian Asbestos Conference, Part One

On April 25, 2009, participants from four continents will convene in Hong Kong at this year’s largest international asbestos meeting, the Asian Asbestos Conference. The conference is sponsored by the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat, the Building & Woodworkers International, and three groups based in Hong Kong – the Asia Monitor Resource Center, the Association for the Rights of Industrial Accident Victims, and the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions.

As our readers will well understand, it makes great sense to hold a meeting in Asia, which has been a major focus of recent publications seeking to address the local asbestos problems including Killing the Future, a monograph detailing the depth and breadth of problems throughout Asia, and India’s Asbestos Time Bomb, a collection of scholarly articles and reportage on the specific problems being experienced in India, which was published last September in Mumbai and at the International Mesothelioma Interest Group seminar in Amsterdam.

Currently, Asia consumes more than half the raw asbestos fiber used throughout the world, almost always in industries and applications without appropriate safeguards for workers and for exposed end-users and residents. Unless something is done, and done soon, we are planting the seeds for a continent-wide epidemic of mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases which will start soon, peak around 2025, and last well into the second half of this century.

As Laurie Kazan-Allen, Executive Director of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat, said,

“… in Japan, thousands of cases of asbestos-related disease have been diagnosed amongst former asbestos workers, railway workers, schoolteachers, insulators and local residents. In Korea, the incidence of asbestos-related disease is also on the rise. There is no question that India, Thailand, the Philippines and other Asian countries will also experience increasing mortality from the avoidable diseases caused by asbestos.”

I was delighted to be invited to make a presentation at this conference on “Transnational Claims: How U.S. Developments Affect Asian Asbestos Victims.” During this talk, I will present information about the global reach of the American asbestos industry, the extent to which it has sold products for use outside the U.S. and Canada, and the prospects for litigation brought in the United States on behalf of foreign victims of American asbestos. In addition, I will describe the process by which dozens of American asbestos manufacturers, contractors, and distributors have been and are being reorganized under the protection of the United States Bankruptcy Courts, the establishment of court-approved Bankruptcy Trust Funds to pay the liabilities of those companies, and the potential for foreign victims of these American companies to obtain some measure of financial compensation from these Trusts.

When the currently pending bankruptcy reorganizations are concluded, there will be over $30 billion of liquid assets in these Trust Funds, which acknowledge responsibility for asbestos exposure at well over 10,000 sites around the world. Undoubtedly, there are at least tens of thousands of additional foreign sites at which American products were used and from which liability might well arise.

The full program schedule is available online.

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