- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Asbestos litigation

It is important that when compromise is in the air, the facts are used as the basis from which the compromise is etched. I agree with Amy Ridenour that asbestos-litigation compromise is in the air (“Striking a deal,” Op-Ed, Tuesday). Such a compromise, if just, will make life better for many Americans, as well as free up future resources for American business interests. Some key urban legends, however, must be dispelled before such a compromise can be just.

First, asbestos use is not against U.S. law in most cases. Asbestos fibers may be sold openly in the U.S. marketplace.

Second, neither the Environmental Protection Agency nor the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has adopted regulations that have a “zero” tolerance level for asbestos.

OSHA has adopted an asbestos personnel exposure limit (PEL) of 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter (f/cc) of air. The EPA has a clearance level of 0.01(f/cc) by phase contrast microscopy and/or 70 structures per millimeter squared for transmission electron microscopy.

To put this into plain English, an employer may expose an employee to approximately 800,000 airborne asbestos fibers per eight-hour shift. The EPA’s clearance level allows for an equivalent exposure of approximately 80,000 asbestos fibers in eight hours. These numbers are far from the “zero” tolerance levels purported by those with interests in the asbestos fiber industry or those influenced by “industry” based statistics, studies and rhetoric.

Hard to believe? The math is simple enough for grade-school children to grasp. The average human breathes about one cubic meter of air per hour, which equals eight cubic meters of air in an eight-hour shift. There are 1 million cubic centimeters of air in a cubic meter, which equals 8 million cubic centimeters of air breathed in eight hours on average.

With a federal PEL of 0.1 f/cc, workers may be exposed to approximately 800,000 asbestos fibers per shift. A building is clean by EPA standards when occupant exposure is less than 80,000 asbestos fibers in eight hours.

It was President Nixon whose signature created the EPA and OSHA. Even more pertinent is the fact that it was President Reagan who signed the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) of 1986. AHERA, the strictest federal asbestos law, was adopted to apply only to kindergarten-through-grade-12 public and private schools. As the story goes, children are compelled to attend school. However, they should not be compelled to attend school in an environment that has been proved to create debilitating disease and painful death. Asbestos was used widely in schools as fire protection as a response to the fire deaths of schoolchildren.

Yes, asbestos reform is needed, though not because the United States enacted unjust asbestos laws. Certain asbestos interests withheld information from the public and court system that for decades kept asbestos health facts an industry secret. It was the fiber industry’s own asbestos liability litigation strategy and historic asbestos documentation that led us all to the asbestos litigation crisis of today.

I support Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, and his Democratic colleagues’ efforts to win real asbestos litigation reform, but reform must be based on human reality as well as business considerations.

BRIAN K. KASHER

President

PCM Analytics Inc.

Riverdale Park

Stopping traffic lights

Kudos to Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. for shooting down stoplight cameras (“A strike against traffic cameras,” Editorial, Tuesday). Besides the constitutional and other problems identified in the editorial, there is another problem with these systems: the dangerous conditions they provoke.

Studies of such systems in other states show that they actually increase some types of accidents — especially rear-end collisions — when motorists slam on the brakes to avoid getting snapped in the intersection. There also have been cases of rigging the lights to snare even more violators by not even giving them a chance to comply. A half-second yellow light will do wonders for that.

These cameras are just another way of squeezing more money from already drained residents and travelers. Fairness and real safety concerns go out the window in favor of greed. It is just a high-tech version of the old Southern speed trap that has given so many places a bad reputation.

So, hooray for Mr. Ehrlich for having the courage to veto a radar-traffic camera bill.

RAY ROONEY

Philadelphia

No church-raiding for Revere

I am writing in response to Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. In the article “U.S. helps renovate Old North Church” (Nation, yesterday), Mr. Lynn is quoted as saying that Paul Revere, if he were alive, would “ride around … warning that the church-state separation wall has just seen another crack.”

Surely Mr. Lynn is aware that at the time of the War of Independence, Massachusetts had an established church, which it supported with tax money. Revere is not known for his opposition to this policy of his commonwealth. In fact, Revere, a silversmith, made a silver cann — a goblet used for Holy Communion — for the city-supported church in Northampton, Mass. (see www.maineantiquedigest.com/articles/nham1000.htm).

Rather than ride around protesting, it is more likely that Revere, were he alive today, would offer a proposal for refurbishing and replacing the pewter and silver in the Old North Church.

EILEEN MOLONEY ZELL

Severna Park, Md.

Jihad suspect on trial

It is telling that federal prosecutors are “vigorously opposing” Sami Al-Arian’s refusal to waive his right to a speedy trial, citing the case’s “complexity” (“Islamic Jihad suspect to represent self,” Nation, Tuesday). One wonders why the government bothered to indict him if it was not prepared to go to trial.

On the other hand, perhaps it is not unusual that prosecutors would prefer to let Mr. Al-Arian languish in solitary confinement for as long as possible, unable to defend himself. After all, it’s easy enough for the government to grandstand before the news media about its supposedly airtight case.

Ultimately, however, it will prove more difficult to persuade a judge and jury to convict on the basis of secret evidence and information supplied, according to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, by Israeli intelligence.

RANDALL ROYER

Communications director

National Liberty Fund

Alexandria

Poor veterans

If the data from the Census Bureau is to be believed, the Associated Press story “Fewer veterans live in poverty” is true (Nation, Sunday).

Based upon my experience as a veterans advocate, however, I contend that those relying upon the Department of Veterans Affairs for pension assistance are living further down the poverty line.

A case in point is Cheryl V. Murphy of Moorestown, N.J. An Air Force flight nurse who served in Thailand during the closing months of the Vietnam War, this mother of three — two are at home — suffers from multiple sclerosis (not service-connected) and is rated by Social Security and the VA as 100 percent permanently and totally disabled.

Despite her being unable to work, when she was divorced from her husband, the New Jersey courts refused to provide her any support. She has to live on a veteran’s pension of only $12,692 per year. It should be more, but for some inexplicable reason, the VA is shorting her $137.75 per month — totaling $1,653 per annum — even though the department’s records show otherwise.

Out of that $12,692 “officially” nontaxable income, New Jersey, which does not exempt veteran’s disability pension recipients from property taxes as it does Social Security disability recipients, allows Burlington County to take approximately $4,800 in property taxes.

M. CONRAD AGRESTI

Alexandria


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