Ted Kennedy's Fight for Asbestos Disease Victims

The late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D- Mass.) said people who suffer from an occupational disease after exposure to asbestos deserve financial assistance as they cope with their medical problems.

“Asbestos is the most lethal substance ever widely used in the workplace,” Kennedy said. “Between 1940 and 1980, there were 27 million workers in this country who were exposed to asbestos on the job,” he said.

Kennedy said that nearly 19 million of workers exposed had high levels of exposure over long periods of time. 10,000 asbestos victims die every year as a result of the asbestos-induced disease crisis, he said. Reflecting the high rate of asbestos exposure in the 1970s, the senator expected asbestos mortality to peak in 2015.

“This is not an issue that is gonna diminish in terms of the impact on the workers, the worker’s lives and their families and their communities,” Kennedy said.

In addition to deaths, hundreds of thousands of asbestos workers live with lung cancer and other conditions caused by these fibers. Their difficulty breathing and performing other basic tasks renders them unemployable, Kennedy said.

“Because of the long latency period of these diseases, all of [the workers] live with fear of premature death due to asbestos-induced disease,” said Kennedy. “These are the real victims. They deserve to be the first and foremost focus of our concern. “

Kennedy spoke, in part, to protest the debates around the economic impacts of asbestos litigation. While these complexities were discussed, the problems of injured workers were lost in the noise, he said.

“The litigation did not create these costs,” Kennedy said. “Exposure to asbestos created them.”

These costs include medical services, lost wages of those who can no longer work and the expenses of victims’ families, he said. The senator said no legislation had the ability to eliminate these costs, but only to shift them from one party to another.

“Any proposal which would shift more of the financial burden onto the backs of injured workers is unacceptable to me and it should be unacceptable to every one of us,” Kennedy said.

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