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A federal judge in Philadelphia has ruled that bankrupt fiberglass maker Owens Corning is exposed to $7 billion in potential claims from people sickened by asbestos. The decision issued Friday by U.S. District Judge John Fullham could force Owens Corning to increase a $3.6 billion reserve for asbestos claims. The Toledo, Ohio-based company, which filed for bankruptcy protection in October 2000, will be absolved of claims once it comes out of bankruptcy. The judge’s valuation will determine how much is placed into an independent trust fund that will pay future claims Banks and bondholders owed money by Owens Corning had asked the court to set the company’s liability to people injured by asbestos between $2.2 billion and $2.6 billion. Lawyers representing victims wanted at least $11 billion. There has been wide disagreement over how many people exposed to asbestos suffered serious harm. Owens Corning spokeswoman Kristin Kelley said the ruling will allow the company to move forward in its bankruptcy case. The maker of building materials and fiberglass filed for bankruptcy protection because of rising costs from asbestos lawsuits. It stopped selling insulation that contained asbestos 25 years ago. Asbestos was widely used for building materials, including insulation and piping used in steel mills, auto plants and ships. When inhaled, it can lead to a fatal respiratory disease. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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