Recession Hits Australian Asbestos Victims Fund

The Asbestos Injuries Compensation Fund has been affected by the United States and global recessions. Trustees of the James Hardie Asbestos Injuries Compensation Fund recently announced that they were unable to make lump-sum payments to victims of asbestos-related diseases because of the recession.

The $1.5 billion fund, which had been created by the James Hardie building materials firm in 2006, is now short $3.5 million for its compensation fund payouts, due to the decline in the American housing market. Reportedly, this market provides 85% of its company sales. The settlement states that in such an event, instead of lump payments, victims will receive funds in the form of installments.

These victims have suffered from asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral that is currently a well-known carcinogen. This fiber consists of long, thin fibrous crystals and may be mixed with other substances in order to resist heat, electricity and chemical damage. Due to these characteristics, asbestos was used in many buildings and other structures throughout the 1900s.

Asbestos, once damaged, releases its fibers into the air, where they are inhaled and remain lodged in the linings which surround the major organs such as the heart, lungs, and abdomen. Exposure leads to many asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma.

Asbestos advocacy groups representing injured former employees are searching for help and have asked the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for additional funds. “We’re talking to the government and James Hardie about funding options,” said Dallas Booth, CEO of Asbestos Injuries Compensation Fund.

“For example, victims might be able to sign over their rights to the state government so that they get compensated in full until the fund can be replenished and then the state government can get their money back straight out of the fund.” suggested Paul Bastian, New South Wales secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union.

The current method of payment for victims is through a lump sum arrangement, and the Asbestos Diseases Foundation is advocating for the status quo. They emphasized that the payment plan is not the best option, considering that those suffering from mesothelioma often will not live to see the payout.

Bastian noted to the Australian Associated Press that asbestos victims have upfront costs to deal with, including medical bills, and would be adversely affected by an installment plan option. “Victims also want to ensure that their families are looked after, that there’s contingencies and everything is settled before they pass away, in many cases,” said Bastian to the AAP.

He hopes that the government will “be our white knight.”