December 11, 2003 12:30 PM
The remarks of politician/physician Sen. Bill Frist before the Senate show him to be so ill-informed about asbestos disease as to make one wonder if he has ever read a medical journal, let alone familiarized himself with the ins and outs of the asbestos litigation.
Contrary to what Frist claims, asbestos litigation costs have been mainly driven by insurance company strategy of forcing individual plaintiff lawyers to contend with half a dozen defense lawyers, each of whom is running the meter at more than $500 per hour.
As for Frist's contention that bankrupt companies like Johns Manville, Owens Corning, and W. R. Grace are "reputable," one wonders what he has been reading over the past twenty years. Manville -- one of the most renegade corporations in all of corporate history -- not only knew for five decades that asbestos was killing its workers, but also actively conspired to keep its workers from knowing about the hazard. This conspiracy included lying to workers about the results of X-rays showing that they had developed and fatal lung disease. Manville's corporate lawyer put it this way back in the 1930s. Keep the workers in the dark and "let them work themselves to death."
Apparently, Frist doesn't know that the "reputable" firm of Owens-Corning also knew about the ravages of asbestos disease in the 1930s, and failed to inform its workers of the hazard or to take preventive measures to protect their health. As for W. R. Grace -- the corporate villain of "Civil Action" notoriety, as well as the owner of the mine and mill in Libby, Montana,, that is wreaking havoc in the lungs of the town's residents -- only the most shameless apologist for the asbestos industry could refer to it as "reputable." Grace is a firm that has paid the highest possible legally allowable fine for lying to the EPA about asbestos. It has also been found guilty of outrageous misconduct in a South Carolina lawsuit when it was proved that the company had sold asbestos insulation to the city of Greenville after it had removed the same insulation from its corporate headquarters in Maryland for reasons of health and safety.
There are so many medical mistakes and misstatements in Frist's speech before the Senate that one wonders where he studied medicine. For example, he declares twice in his remarks that a distinction must be made between asbestos lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure, and that caused by cigarette smoking. He then cites figures showing that some 90% of asbestos-disease claimants are current or former smokers. Can he be so uninformed as not to know of the extraordinary synergism between asbestos exposure and cigarette smoking – i.e., that non-smoking asbestos workers develop lung cancer seven times more often than workers not exposed to asbestos; that cigarette-smoking workers not exposed to asbestos develop lung cancer seven times as often as non-smoking workers; but that cigarette-smoking workers who are exposed to asbestos develop lung cancer fifty to seventy times as readily as workers who neither smoke nor are exposed to asbestos?
Send this monumentally ignorant politician/physician back to medical school.