Private equity firms are quietly buying up a literal toxic asset: companies’ liabilities for decades of asbestos poisoning. Some Wall Street firms are scoring huge payouts to take on the hassle and financial risks of people getting sick and dying from asbestos exposure — and they can use threadbare oversight and cutthroat legal maneuvers to delay and deny these victims’ claims. 

While assuming asbestos liabilities might seem like a losing proposition — lawsuits from people with asbestos-related diseases have cost companies billions — private equity firms can demand huge payments for the service and are not required to abide by traditional insurance regulations regarding how they manage and invest this cash.