Industry Fails to Derail U.S. Asbestos Bill
The progress of the Ban Asbestos in America Act 2007 (S. 742) through the U.S. Senate has not gone unnoticed by Canadian asbestos stakeholders. On July 30, 2007, Claude Carrier from the Canadian Embassy in Washington sent a letter to Senator Barbara Boxer, the Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the body which held hearings on the proposed legislation in June 2007.1 He wrote:
The Government of Canada follows a controlled use approach to strictly control exposure to chrysotile through federal, provincial and territorial workplace exposure limits and bans on some categories of consumer and workplace products under Canada's Hazardous Products Act.
The Government of Canada is of the view that the occupational health risks of chrysotile can be managed if regulations, programs and practices are in place to limit exposure to airborne fibres and that the risks would be no greater than posed by other occupational activities. Low levels of exposure pose low risks
Today, chrysotile represents nearly one-hundred percent of the world consumption of asbestos as amphibole asbestos has essentially disappeared from the market and over 98% of world's (sic) the consumption of chrysotile is utilized in chryso-cement or friction products where the fibres are encapsulated and, in that form, do not pose a risk to human health.2
Senator Boxer and her colleagues were clearly underwhelmed by the Canadian arguments. The day after Carrier's fax was received, the asbestos bill was unanimously voted out of Committee with the result that after the Summer recess it will move to the Senate floor for consideration. The bill's main sponsor, Senator Patty Murray, is thrilled that a 5 year Republican blockage of this legislation has been eliminated:
the entire committee has sent a clear and loud message of support, giving us strong momentum heading to the Senate floor To the families who have been waiting for help, to the workers who need to be protected, I'd say we're almost there.3
A previous attempt by the U.S. EPA (1989) to ban asbestos was reversed by a ruling of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which gave judgment supporting a technical argument advanced by asbestos stakeholders, including pro-chrysotile lobbyists from Canada.4 It looks unlikely that the asbestos industry will succeed in derailing the current attempt to protect American citizens from asbestos.
September 1, 2007
2 Fax from Claude Carriere, Charge d'Affairs, Embassy of Canada, Washington to Senator Barbara Boxer, July 30, 2007.
4 The federal appeals court threw the EPA regulation out in 1991 saying the EPA had not sufficiently considered alternative means to protect public health and the environment that stopped short of an all out ban.