James Hardie ¿ Australia's largest asbestos maker for most of last century ¿ has been making compensation on asbestos-related claims since the early 1980s and stopped making asbestos products in 1987.
Following a shortfall in its first compensation fund, James Hardie agreed in 2006 to pay AU$4 billion to an amended fund over the next 40 years, in anticipation of continuing claims from workers and family members whose health was affected by work with asbestos. Inhaled asbestos mineral fibers can cause mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer.
On Thursday, the company announced it could not afford to contribute to the fund this year because of a cash crunch following the meltdown of the U.S. housing market, which provides 75 percent of the company's sales.
"Future funding ... continues to be linked to the long-term financial success of James Hardie," the company said in a statement."It is anticipated that the annual payment due on July 1, 2009 will be zero." James Hardie said the shortfall in the fund was "regrettable" and that it would resume contributions when its operating cash flow was positive.