Honeywell's Business is Security - But It's Working to Make Asbestos Victims Less Secure

Maybe you saw Honeywell's TV spot for its wi-fi thermostat. In it, John Slattery of Mad Men fame imagines a future in which high-tech home appliances meet every need. He gushes that Honeywell's innovation "gives me hope."

But away from the advertising spotlight, Honeywell is working to strip hope from many asbestos victims.

The Fortune 100 company is one of the biggest backers of federal legislation that would delay or deny compensation to victims of asbestos exposure - a bill that would leave victims much less secure in their ability to pay for medical care and provide for their family's needs if they die.

Since 2010, Honeywell International's political action committee and its executives have given hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to members of Congress who support a bill known as the FACT Act (H.R. 526). From 2012 to 2014, Honeywell spent $20 million lobbying Congress on a range of legislation that included the FACT Act, although federal lobbying disclosure records don't break down how much it spent advocating for passage of a specific bill.

The FACT Act, introduced by Rep. Blake Farenthold, (R-Tex.), would erect needless and invasive roadblocks for asbestos victims seeking their rightful compensation from the companies that exposed them to one of the most lethal substances on earth. New estimates by the EWG Action Fund show that asbestos kills up to 15,000 Americans every year.

Farenthold's bill would require Americans suffering and dying from asbestos-caused disease to turn over personal and sensitive information, including their names, addresses, workplace histories, medical conditions, birth year and part of their Social Security numbers. The data would be posted online and available for anyone to download, leaving asbestos victims vulnerable to identity theft.

Honeywell International's business is built on security. Its fire, smoke and burglar alarms can be found in many homes, schools and businesses. Honeywell produces protective gear worn by firefighters and hardware the military uses to combat terrorist networks and other threats.

Some victims were exposed to asbestos during Honeywell's work as a defense contractor; for many years, asbestos was heavily used in the defense and aerospace industries. Other victims were exposed by Honeywell's consumer products, including Bendix auto brakes, which used to be made with asbestos. Honeywell has paid out more than $1.1 billion in asbestos damages since 2010. Its political action committee has donated more money to the Congressional supporters of the FACT Act than any other corporate PAC.

Asbestos has taken a particularly heavy toll on veterans and firefighters. Because the U.S. military used asbestos for decades, about 30 percent of mesothelioma patients are veterans. A 2013 study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health showed that firefighters, who are regularly exposed to airborne asbestos in burning buildings, are twice as likely to die from mesothelioma as the general public. The only known cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure.

The bitter irony is inescapable: A company dedicated to protecting Americans is one of the biggest supporters of a bill that would put many Americans, including its own customers, at risk. You can bet you won't see a TV commercial advertising that fact. Honeywell should be ashamed.