The Ban Lobby
A massive ban lobby of vested interests is fuelling calls for a prohibition on the use of chrysotile around the world.
The lobby includes vociferous campaigners, “independent” experts, money-driven lawyers and opportunistic manufacturers of “alternatives.” All of them stand to benefit, many personally, from the introduction of a worldwide chrysotile ban. Driven by common interests, these stakeholders have forged strong ties with one another as well as with international organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Ken Takahashi for example is both a founder of the campaigning Global Ban Asbestos Network (G-BAN) and Acting Director of a WHO Collaborating Center. Discredited expert Barry Castleman is in a similar position: he also is a founder of G-BAN as well as being an adviser to the WHO. Leading activist Laurie Kazan-Allen is the sister of the millionaire asbestos litigator in the US, Steven Kazan.
Blind to scientific and economic arguments, the group is sustained by huge sums of money – millions of dollars a year - pouring into its coffers from massive asbestos lawsuit pay-outs.
The money provides incomes of up to several thousands US$-a-year for a small group of international professional campaigners, including an expert witness censured by a senior US judge for introducing “hearsay” testimony and causing the collapse of a multi-million dollar legal case.
It covers the costs of professional campaigners travelling the globe to attend conferences at four-star hotels in far-flung cities like Bangkok and Cape Town.
And funds disparate, self-appointed, anti-asbestos lobbying groups, some run from campaigner’s front rooms and others controlling US$1 million budgets and drawing on the help of Capitol Hill public relations experts.
So-called “alternatives” manufacturers also bolster international pro-ban lobbying efforts, buoyed up by predictions of the huge windfall profits they expect from producing replacements if the concerted calls lead to new laws demanding asbestos be stripped from all buildings.
Together they disseminate their version of the truth, praising and promoting each other, and damning those who dare to disagree with them.
They ignore clear scientific evidence that different sorts of asbestos carry different risks, and use their collective financial muscle to attempt to persuade, cajole and often bully international governments, who ask for hard evidence, to fall into line.
Kazan, McClain, Satterley & Greenwood
California-based law firm Kazan, McClain, Satterley & Greenwood earns millions of dollars in fees pursuing claims against firms manufacturing and using asbestos.
It claims to file up an average of 25 asbestos-related cases a year, but during a 30-year-old period, led by founder Steven Kazan, it has launched as many as 2,000 cases against the industries used asbestos.
The firm makes huge fees managing asbestos trust funds set up to provide compensation for victims seeking pay outs from bankrupt firms.
According to a 2010 report from RAND Corporation, an independent global policy think-tank based in Santa Monica, California, managing an asbestos trust fund is highly lucrative.
The report highlighted the key role of Steven Kazan who has served on the management boards of seven asbestos trust funds controlling $13.8 billion in assets.
In 2008, according to the report, these trusts paid out $2.4 billion in claims, including $600 million in lawyer’s fees - two and a half times as much as 37 other asbestos trust funds put together.
The law firm’s other partners– David McClain, Joseph Satterley, Gordon Greenwood, Justin Bosl and Denise Abrams – also specialise in asbestos-related litigation.
A recent case saw $11 million payout to the family of Gordon Bankhead, a car industry worker.
A charity linked to the law firm, Kazan, McClain, Fernandez, Lyons, Greenwood, Oberman, Satterley & Bosl Foundation Inc., sponsors a variety of charitable causes ranging from mesothelioma and cancer research to programs on public awareness of occupational hazards and safety.
Motley Rice LLC has been accused of legal malpractice, negligence, breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract over its handling of asbestos workers’ compensation pay-outs.
The firm was involved in the biggest civil lawsuit in US history – forcing the tobacco companies to agree a $246 billion pay out.
However, last year it was accused of mishandling a class action involving near 15,000 people after it failed to tell them they would lose other compensation benefits by bringing the case.
Set up by Joseph Rice and late-Ronald Motley, the firm’s lawsuits have also forced 30 companies using asbestos in the past to file for bankruptcy.
Ronald Motley, who died in 2013, styled himself as the voice of victims of greedy corporations.
The firm is a pioneer of class-action lawsuits against the tobacco industry and others that it claimed failed to take issues of workers’ health safety seriously.
However, his critics said that Motley put multimillion lawsuits on a “conveyor belt”, leaving targets of his trials completely drained of finances.
Motley widely used the technique of mass torts, whereby hundreds of clients’ cases are combined into a single lawsuit.
Following the 9-11 attacks of the US, Motley brought a number of lawsuits against the Government of Saudi Arabia accusing it of sponsoring terrorism.
In the wake of the 2001 attacks he filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Saudi government, banks, charities and several members of the Saudi royal family.
In 2014 Motley Rice faced a legal malpractice allegations after it was accused of mishandling a case that led to asbestos plaintiffs losing compensation payments. Motley Rice denied any wrongdoing.
Simmons Hanley Conroy
Asbestos compensation lawyers Simmons Hanley Conroy have been named in a political kickback scandal in New York.
In January 2015 the firm was named in connection with the arrest Sheldon Silver, the Speaker of the New York State Assembly.
The powerful politician is alleged to have pocketed over $5 million in an elaborate scheme through which he provided state funds to the clinic of a doctor specialising in asbestos cases.
In return the doctor passed on names of patients suffering from asbestos-related diseases that Silver allegedly referred to Weitz & Luxenberg, a large class-action litigation firm based in New York.
Weitz & Luxenberg then allegedly approached the patients’ to sue companies related to the asbestos industry making millions in compensation fees.
The same doctor, it emerged, was paid handsomely by Simmons Hanley Conroy to provide the details of potential plaintiffs in what now appears to be common practice among asbestos litigation firms.
Between 2009 and 2014 both firms were also major contributors to the campaign funds of the form Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, who blocked asbestos litigation reforms.
Formed in 2014 Simmons Hanley Conroy has its the roots in a firm founded by partner John Simmons, in 1999, to focus on asbestos-related cases.
The company specialises in litigation on asbestos exposure, as well as focusing on cases related to dangerous drugs or medical devices, international terrorism, environmental contamination, commercial litigation and intellectual property rights.
The company claims it has won US$4 billion in settlements for its clients. Its asbestos litigation department is headed by Perry Browder, who led the $250 million compensation case again US Steel, the largest asbestos injury award for a single plaintiff in US legal history.
Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett
Dallas-based Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett is facing accusations of fraud and conspiracy to increase its fees in an asbestos lawsuit.
The Texas firm, and three others, are accused of misrepresenting evidence to increase the compensation fees from Garlock Sealing Technologies, a US manufacturer of asbestos-lined gaskets.
The manufacturing firm filed for bankruptcy in 2010 after paying enormous compensation after litigation led by the law firms.
But early in 2015 a judge found the evidence of fraud and cut Garlock’s liability from $3.1 billion to $125 million.
Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett denies the allegations, arguing that Garlock was simply trying to reduce its financial liabilities.
Garlock filed a return lawsuit against the law firm alleging fraud and conspiracy.
Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett specialises in so-called toxic class-action cases against asbestos firms and pharmaceutical companies.
Founded in 2006 by Jeffrey Simon and David Greenstone, other partners include Chris Panatier, Jennifer Bartlett, Brian Barrow, Robert Green, Stuart Purdy, Jay Stuemke and Lisa Shirley.
The firm claims to have a successful track record including winning compensation payouts of between $2 million up to $19 million for its clients.
In 2014 Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett was a Platinum sponsor of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organisation (ADAO), a US-based charity dedicated to raising public awareness of the dangers of asbestos and to working towards an asbestos ban.
Early Lucarelli Sweeney Meisenkothen
Early Lucarelli Sweeney Meisenkothen is another US law firm earning hefty fees overseeing bankruptcy trusts – and payouts – for defunct asbestos companies.
It oversees the two trusts picking over the bones of Bondex, a Missouri-based company that made a well-known line of household patch and repair products, and Hercules, a New York cement firm.
The Bondex trust alone controls around $797.5 million to cover victims’ claims.
The New York and New Haven law firm was founded in the 1980s, with the specific aim of representing plaintiffs asbestos-related health cases, mainly among former military personnel and shipyard workers, and claims to have won compensation worth up to $11 million.
One of the firm’s senior lawyers, Ethan Early, serves on the bankruptcy committees of the Bondex and Hercules Chemicals.
The firm’s partners Robert Sweeney and Jennifer Lucarelli are also well-known names in asbestos litigation; Lucarelli specialises on the asbestos cases for former military and Navy personnel, while Sweeney represents clients suffering from asbestos poisoning and mesothelioma.
Chris Meisenkothen oversees the firm’s Connecticut asbestos cases and manages its asbestos workers’ compensation practice.
California-based millionaire attorney Steven Kazan profited from his firm’s $13 million earnings last year — much of it from asbestos claims.
The 72-year-old lives in a large US$3.5 million five-bedroom, seven bathroom, home in Piedmont, with his second wife Judy.
Kazan is the founder of Kazan, McClain, Satterley & Greenwood, one of the largest American asbestos litigation firms.
He is also is leading supporter of US Democratic Party, donating more than US $700,000 to the political campaigns of Barack Obama and other candidates.
He and his wife, and his law firm also, contributed thousands of dollars to other good causes, including a nearby Marine Mammal Center that cares for sick and injured seals, the National AIDS Memorial, and the New Israel Fund, which campaigns for social and political rights for non-Jewish inhabitants of Israel.
Kazan serves on the management boards of seven asbestos trust funds that paid $2.4 billion in claims in 2008 – earning his firm, and other lawyers, millions of dollars in fees.
The seven funds he manages have more than $13.8 billion in assets, and have paid out more than two and a half times more compensation than other similar asbestos trust funds combined.
His sister, Laurie Kazan-Allen, runs IBAS, the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat, a British based campaign group calling for a worldwide ban on asbestos.
American Laurie Kazan-Allen is the globetrotting head of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS).
She lives in a taxpayer-subsidised council house, in Stanmore, northwest London, England, which is the international headquarters of the self-styled lobbying group, which also employs her British husband David Allen.
The couple also run Jerome Consultants, an asbestos and tobacco research consultancy, touting its expertise to paying clients in Britain and the US.
The consultancy, which does not disclose its annual earnings, is listed as a paid “vendor” by RMIT University, Melbourne, where another leading anti-asbestos campaigner, and close friend of Mrs Kazan Allen, Dr Jock McCulloch, is a history professor.
Professor McCulloch and Mrs Kazan-Allen attended a conference together in Cape Town, South Africa, in October 2014, and he also went out his way thanking her for her “help and advice’ in his book on the global asbestos industry.
Jerome Consultants’ international earnings also help to fund Mrs Kazan-Allen’s British Asbestos Newsletter.
Her older brother Steven Kazan runs the multi-million dollar US law firm Kazan, McClain, Satterley & Greenwood, which specialises in law suits against asbestos producers and sponsors some of the events she has attended.
Linda Reinstein earns US$100,000 a year, funded by donations from US law firms, as a fulltime global anti-asbestos campaigner and activist.
A former American Airlines flight attendant, she became a campaigner after her husband Alan died of an asbestos-exposure related disease.
From her US$1 million home in Manhattan Beach, California, Reinstein runs the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organisation (ADAO), a non-profit Corporation, largely paid for by donations from US law firms including Motley Rice LLC and Simmons Hanly Conroy, LLC.
Until 2009 the organisation operated as a California charity, registering US$88,000 of income and almost US$74,000 of assets – a US$31,000 increase on the previous year.
But, in that year, the California Department of Justice issued a statement of “delinquency” against the organisation and it stopped disclosing its earnings to the State Attorney General’s office.
It now operates as Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, Inc. In 2012 it registered an income of US$ $344,999 paying out US$330,000 used to cover administration costs including her salary.
The total grant paid between 2007 and 2011, mainly by the lawyers, was more than US$1.3 million.
This goes to pay the cost of Reinstein’s travel costs, US$50,000 in 2013, covering her frequent appearance as a keynote speaker at global conferences and events on asbestos issues and as a witness to inquires by the US Congress and UK House of Commons.
Kathleen Ruff, the veteran asbestos ban campaigner, helps run a controversial left wing Canadian think tank that has been accused of disrespecting the country’s war dead.
The Canadian veterans minister accused the body, the Rideau Institute, which funds Ms Ruff’s activities, of “a lack of respect for Remembrance Day”.
Other leading politicians condemned her organisation as “ideological extremists”.
It was attacked as “totally disrespectful” after it urged people to wear white “peace” poppies rather than traditional red remembrance poppies sold by servicemen’s’ groups.
The Institute has involved in further recent controversy when it questioned Canadian Special Forces role in targeting Islamic extremist terrorists in Iraq as going “way beyond self-defence”.
Ms Ruff is a member of the Institute’s board of directors and its Senior Advisor on Human Rights. This role has seen her travelling the world campaigning for Canadian asbestos mines to be shut and for an international export ban.
Ms Ruff is a leading member of GBAN, the Global Asbestos Awareness Network (GBAN).
Ken Takahashi is Professor of Environmental Epidemiology and Acting Director of the World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Occupational Health.
Based at the University of Occupational and Environmental Health in Kitakyushu City in Japan, Takahashi’s campaigning is indirectly funded by the Japanese government.
He, and his campaign group, the Asian Asbestos Initiative, receives money from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science that, in turn, received a grant from the Japanese Ministry of Education and Science.
Takahashi’s work research focuses on mesothelioma and asbestos-related diseases and he advocates a total ban on all types asbestos.
Ken Takahasi is a chartered member of GBAN network http://www.gban.net/2010/11/15/dr-ken-takahashi-japan/.
Professional expert witness Barry Castleman charges US$400-an-hour for his help and testimony in asbestos related lawsuits.
The US-based doctor of chemical engineering, has revealed that he earned US$370,000 in “income on asbestos”, including giving evidence in 16 trials.
Last year a US Supreme Court judge overturned a US$2.9 million asbestos compensation award after accusing Castleman of prejudicing the trial.
The judge ordered a new trial after Castleman, called as a witness for the plaintiff, accused the defendants of being “liars” and of spending millions of dollars “buying senators”.
The judge said: ““Dr. Castleman’s statement about (the defendant) engaging in bribery is especially egregious and requires a new trial.
He added: “The inadmissible testimony was so derogatory that a simple admonishment to ignore that aspect of Dr. Castleman’s testimony, while leaving the jury to accept the rest of his views as an expert witness, was clearly insufficient.”
Castleman, of Garrett Park, Maryland, has also been criticised in court for the expenses he charges to attend court to give evidence.
In one case in 2010, the court was told the US$2,390 he billed for three or four hours travelling and an overnight stay in a hotel was “an unreasonably excessive amount for his travel time and expenses”.
He is author of Asbestos: Medical and Legal Aspects, an 894-page history of asbestos-related diseases and advocates a ban of asbestos in developing countries
Castleman is a member of the science advisory board of Asbestos Disease Awareness Organisation and Global Ban Asbestos Network.
Sugio Furuya is co-ordinator at the Asian Ban Asbestos Network and Global Ban asbestos network that campaigns for a global ban on the use of asbestos and to raise public awareness of risks associated with asbestos
A close associate of Ken Takahashi, he is also secretary general of the Tokyo-based Japan Occupational Safety Centre, which co-ordinates the work of regional occupational health centres across the country.
Sugio Furuya’s research focused on asbestos-related deaths in Japan and Asia and the increasing levels of asbestos litigation compensation awards in the region.
He is a regular at global asbestos ban conferences, sharing a platform with Barry Castleman and Kathleen Ruff.
International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS)
Operating from the spare bedroom of a London council house, the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat is the brainchild of American Laurie Kazan-Allen.
Working with her husband David, and with the backing of her wealthy lawyer brother Steven Kazan, Ms Kazan-Allen travels the globe, attending international conferences across Europe, Asia and Africa, under the banner of the unregistered and unregulated organisation.
Where exactly it gets its money from his unclear. It is not a charity or a company and therefore does not need to file any public accounts or explain the sources of its funding.
In a declaration to the World Trade Organization, IBAS declared it was “funded by donations from foundations and companies that work to benefit asbestos victims”.
It is unknown whether this extends to financial ties with US law firms making millions of dollars in fees from asbestos claims.
Certainly Ms Kazan-Allen’s expertise is regularly cited by her brother on the website for his law firm, Kazan, McClain, Satterley & Greenwood, and IBAS also oversees a bursary for research into asbestos-related subjects that is partly funded by the firm.
Other backing, for a regular asbestos newsletter produced by Ms Kazan-Allen, comes from Jerome Consultants, an asbestos and tobacco research consultancy, offering the expertise of Ms Kazan-Allen and her husband to paying clients in Britain and the US.
However, the consultancy is not a registered company either and therefore does not have to declare any of its income.
Despite not having any declared income IBAS has co-sponsored many international conferences and lectures on asbestos in Europe, Canada and Asia
Asbestos Disease Awareness Organisation (ADAO)
The US-based Asbestos Disease Awareness Organisation has been bankrolled with US$1.35 million in recent years – most of it from law firm earning millions in legal fees from the issue.
Run out of its president Linda Reinstein’s California home, its accounts show it spends US$329,086 on administrative expenses.
While many of its key officers work for free, founder Reinstein earns US$100,000-a-year from her role at the helm of the organisation and as its only registered paid employee.
Other funds are diverted to paying for Reinstein to attend international asbestos conferences – with the ADAO’s most recent accounts showing it spent US$49,695 on travel costs. A further $10,000 went on office expenses.
Previously a California charity, which is now listed as being in “delinquency” by the State’s Department of Justice, the ADAO was founded in 2004 by Reinstein and Doug Larkin, a Washington DC public relations executive, who is its unpaid Director of Communications.
According to its website, ADAO is an independent organisation funded through voluntary contributions and staffed by volunteers.
Its funding is mainly provided by US law firms earning millions of dollars in fees from litigation against asbestos manufacturers and other firms whose workers were exposed.
Its “Platinum sponsors” include US legal firms Simmons Hanly Conroy; Baron and Budd and Motley Rice. Support has also been provided by a number of other law firms, including Belluck & Fox; Kazan, McClain, Lyons Greenwood & Harley; Levy and Phillips & Konigsberg.
Despite this funding not-for-profit corporation claims it is independent and not influenced by pharmaceuticals companies or law firms.
Global Ban Asbestos Network (GBAN)
An offshoot of Asbestos Disease Awareness Organisation (ADAO) the Global Ban Asbestos Network, or GBAN, acts as an international internet forum for global anti-asbestos groups.
It was founded by ADAO president Linda Reinstein and the Brazilian Association of the Asbestos-Exposed (ABREA), which represents the former employees of two large asbestos companies based in the country.
The organisation has expanded and is now a forum for international members including: Kathleen Ruff, of RightOnCanada; Dr. Ken Takahashi, of Japan’s University of Occupational and Environmental Health and engineer Barry Castleman, who appears as a regular expert witness in international asbestos lawsuits.
GBAN specialises in using social media websites, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to disseminate anti-asbestos news.
Asian Ban Asbestos Network (ABAN)
Asian Ban Asbestos Network is a regional network of groups in 16 Asian countries campaigning for a global ban on all asbestos.
Founded in 2009, it has organised a series of international conferences on asbestos in the region, including in India, Pakistan and Thailand.
ABAN’s coordinating team includes Sugio Furuya, Secretary-General of the Tokyo-based Japan Occupational Safety and Health Resource Centre; Yeyong Choi, head of the Ban Asbestos Korea (BANKO); and Sanjiv Pandita, Executive Director of the Asia Monitor Resource Centre (AMRC).
Siam Cement Group (SCG, Thailand)
Founded by the Thai royal family, Siam Cement Group is one of Thailand’s leading manufacturers of industrial goods.
Thailand’s main producer of “alternative” construction materials, including concrete roof tiles, it has been lobbying the Government for a ban on asbestos products.
SCG was one of the largest users of asbestos in the region, but in 2007 it announced that it was moving towards using “environmentally friendly materials”.
However, it still part owns a 50 per cent in an asbestos concrete production plant in Indonesia.
PT Siam-Indo Concrete Products, Jakarta, in West Java, uses asbestos imported from Russia.
The Thai conglomerate says it has no management role in the subsidiary, however, SCG’s website highlights the company, which it says is part of its “vision to become a sustainable leader” in the region.
SCG’s annual report confirms the company maintains a half-interest in the Indonesian company, with a spokesman telling the Bangkok Post it ensured “good governance’ over the investment.
The company’s Indonesian vice president has argued against an asbestos ban. He told a Jakarta conference that a ban would be bad for the economy. He said: 'The European Union has banned the use of chrysotile, and we're afraid that there will be pressure from Europe to ban the use of this material here too.'
He added that an industry-sponsored study showed chrysotile posed no risks to health. 'The latest scientific study shows that chrysotile asbestos is safe,' he said, adding that the process of manufacturing it was also free of risk.
In Thailand SCG claim its non-asbestos Chang (Elephant) brand now has a 40 per cent share of the residential market, worth US$500,000-a-year.
According to Thai media reports, SCG used to be the market leader, but after the company changed to producing roofing tiles without asbestos, its share has dropped because of high prices.
In 2013 its managing director admitted that the company has not yet broken even on its investment in new technology.
The Mahaphant Fibre Cement Public Company Limited is one of the region’s leading manufacturers of fibre cement.
It stopped making asbestos products in 2011 after the Thai government began a debate on measures to ban the material.
It is estimated that a ban on chrysotile in roof tiles, which would require the replacement of the existing tiles with non-asbestos ones, would cost the country US$14 billion – producing major profits for companies like Mahaphant.
Founded in 1974, in Bangkok, the group has a network of business partners in more than 40 countries across Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Oceania and Europe.
It is currently the largest non-asbestos fibre cement producer in Asia.
Saint Gobain is a French mega industrial conglomerate, specialized in the production of glass since the XVII century. The Group is one of the biggest company in the world, with more than 181,000 direct works worldwide and with an annual revenue of 41€ billion of euros. In Brazil they have a subsidiary unit to product asbestos cement since 1937. However, in 2004 they converted its production lines to non-asbestos, in the production of building materials following the ban on the continued use of chrysotile in Europe.
From 1967 until 1997, the Saint Gobain group was owner of 50% of the Brazilian chrysotile mine (SAMA – Minerações Associadas) together with the Brazilian Eternit Group, having also others partnerships in the production of asbestos cement plants (fibercement). The Eternit Brazilian Group is an open market company with shares negotiated in the stock market, without any multinational participation (foreigner).
Today, the 400 year old company Saint Gobain is considered the world´s largest building materials supply company for civil construction, where just in USA, Saint-Gobain recorded sales of more than €4 billion. In Brazil, nowadays, the Saint Gobain Group is working in sectors as Flat Glass, Fibercement, Insulations and Reinforcements, Abrasives, Mortars, Painel Wall where they have 53 plants, 42 distribution center, 37 Stores of building materials, 10 mining with total revenue around US$ 4 Billions.
The fibercement sector in Brazil is less than 10% of the Saint Gobain activities in the country.
In 2004 they stop the use of chrysotile in Brazil, and started a campaign to ban the mineral in the country. The Saint Gobain Group supports NGOs in Brazil to force the ban and they also have activities together with Prosecutors, National Congress and State Congress Legislative, all in order to ban the Chrysotile use on Brazil.