Political Action on Asbestos in North America
On March 1, 2007, politicians in the U.S. and Canada took important steps to address their national asbestos legacies through traditional and not quite so traditional means. In Washington D.C. Senator Patty Murray held a hearing in the Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety in support of her Ban Asbestos in America Act, which will, if passed, finally end the use of asbestos in the United States. This is Senator Murray's 3rd attempt to pass a ban asbestos act since the 107th Congress; the bill would prohibit the import, manufacture, processing and distribution of asbestos within two years. It would also allocate $50 million over 5 years for research and treatment of mesothelioma and for the setting up of: a national network of treatment centers, a federal survey of asbestos diseases and their health effects, and a public awareness campaign on asbestos exposure. Amongst the experts who testified at the Senate hearing included Dr. Barry Castleman, who has been campaigning for a U.S. asbestos ban for more than 20 years. Dr Harvey Pass, asbestos widow Sue Vento and Mr. John Thayer, a representative of the Capitol Hill Tunnel Workers, also gave evidence.1
Following the hearing, Senators Harry Reid, Majority Leader, and Barbara Boxer, Chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, pledged their support for the bill at a news conference. Boxer, who is one of 12 cosponsors of the bill, said: "As soon as we get this bill, we will schedule a hearing on it," she said. "We will notify the Republicans today." Linda Reinstein, Executive Director of the Asbestos Diseases Awareness Organization commended Senator Murray for her commitment saying the Senator has "shown great strength and leadership as she leads the fight to have this deadly substance banned forever, which will save thousands of lives by preventing asbestos-related illnesses and paving the road to recovery for victims and their families."
MEANWHILE, NORTH OF THE BORDER
Members of the Canadian Parliament Pat Martin and Catherine Bell used hand puppets to illustrate the insanity of new Canadian asbestos regulations2 which technically permit the use of amosite and chrysotile asbestos in children's toys, textiles, construction and renovation materials and friction products. According to regulations updating the Hazardous Products Act in the Canada Gazette " a person may advertise, sell or import an asbestos product... that is used by a child in learning or play" as long as the material cannot become airborne. The puppets, Toxic Timmy and Ms. O'Thelioma, named after the deadly asbestos cancer, made their debut performances at an unusual press conference in the capital where Martin told reporters: "You would have to be crazy to put asbestos in children's toys." Martin pointed out that "The rest of the world is banning asbestos in all its forms and Canada is actively seeking out new markets and applications. It defies reason."
MP Catherine Bell, who provided the falsetto voice of Ms. O'Thelioma, told journalists:
"the Canadian government is spending a fortune subsidizing and promoting this deadly material... We tried to eliminate government funding of the Asbestos Institute during debate last year on the supplementary estimates, but the Liberals and Bloc (Quebecquois) ganged up with the government to maintain the subsidy of the asbestos industry."
Martin added that the Government's support for the Chrysotile Institute, the asbestos industry's mouthpiece, constituted "corporate welfare for corporate serial killers." Unfortunately, the entrenched pro-asbestos position of the Canadian federal government makes it likely that the puppets have a long career in front of them.
March 8, 2007
1 To hear the testimony of the experts go to:
2 The Asbestos Products Regulations are detailed in the Canada Gazette Part I, November 11, 2006, pages 3648-3656.