Other Voices

Congress should protect asbestos victims, not companies behind it

Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz both sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz both sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee. AP

Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz face an important decision in their roles on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will soon vote on whether to advance a bill that would make dramatic changes to how our legal system treats people sickened by asbestos.

The bill is supported by several big corporations that were responsible for exposing Americans to the deadly chemical for decades after its health risks were known.

But the bill would be harmful to the thousands of people suffering from the debilitating effects of asbestos disease.

Like me.

A little over a year ago I was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma, the cancer caused only by asbestos exposure. There is no cure.

People don’t get mesothelioma suddenly; it usually develops decades after exposure. I’m only 26.

When I was a young girl my dad would come home from work and I’d give him a big hug. He was a jet mechanic in the Air Force, working with parts on old aircraft that had asbestos components.

He’d come home unknowingly coated in asbestos, exposing our entire family. It’s infuriating to know that he had been covered in toxins.

My dad has been healthy, at least so far.

I have not been so lucky. First, my doctor detected fluid in my abdomen. And then there was another problem: my husband and I were not able to conceive a child. These were warning signs of something bigger.

An ob/gyn oncologist found the cancer. We had no idea I had this ticking time bomb inside me.

I had a nine-hour surgery but doctors found the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes.

The medical premiums and co-pays for my treatment are expensive, made even more so now that I have been medically retired by the Air Force.

There were numerous companies that exposed my dad, and thus me, to asbestos — all the manufacturers of those asbestos-filled airplane parts.

Some of those companies are still around; others are bankrupt and were required to create trusts specifically intended to compensate those of us who were exposed and sickened.

Now Congress is threatening to make our situation worse. Several of the big corporations that were responsible for exposing me and tens of thousands of others to asbestos are lobbying for legislation called the Fairness in Asbestos Claim Transparency Act.

The bill would require those asbestos trusts to publicly disclose the private information of folks like me who have filed claims, including our medical history and home address.

Not only would it violate our privacy, it would delay our compensation as the trusts comply with a series of new requirements.

It’s an absurd plan, and it should be an embarrassment for the asbestos companies who are seeking to delay and deny what they owe. Sixteen national veterans’ service organizations have already announced their opposition to the bill.

Our senators need to consider the facts carefully and get this one right.

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to Washington to meet with Cornyn and Cruz staff members. I told them why this bill would hurt me and fellow Texans suffering from mesothelioma.

I wish asbestos was a problem of the past, but it is with us today. In Texas alone, there were more than 11,000 asbestos-related deaths between 1999 and 2013.

I’ll fight this disease as long as I can. But I need my senators to stand with me and other veterans who are suffering from asbestos exposure, rather than the companies who poisoned us.

Shandi Speedy lives in Austin.