U.S. Moves to Ban Asbestos
On June 12, 2007, the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) heard testimony about the health effects of asbestos.1 Senator Barbara Boxer, the panel's chairwoman, confirmed that in 2005, 2,530 metric tons of asbestos and 90,000 metric tons of asbestos-containing cement products, gaskets, brakes and clutch parts were imported into the U.S. Furthermore, she added: Worldwide production of asbestos actually increased in 2005, from 2.36 million metric tons in 2004 to 2.4 million metric tons in 2005. Expressing her support for Senator Patty Murray's bill, S.742, the Ban Asbestos in America Act of 2007, Senator Boxer concluded that in the face of the terrible price paid by ordinary Americans for the use of this toxic substance and in light of the availability of safer non-asbestos alternatives, the use of asbestos in the U.S. should be discontinued.2
Senator Murray described the six year fight to get her bill enacted and asked: How many more Americans have to die before our government finally does the right thing and bans asbestos? Paying tribute to three of the other witnesses, Dr. Barry Castleman, Dr. Dick Lemen and Linda Reinstein, Senator Murray summed up the facts as follows:
asbestos is deadly,
it's devastating families and communities,
and every day that we wait to ban it, we're sentencing more Americans to an early and avoidable death.
Not only does Murray's bill ban the import, manufacture, processing and distribution of products containing asbestos, it also includes plans to launch a public education campaign to highlight the occupational and environmental asbestos hazard and proposes that the sum of $50 million be allocated to expand research into and treatment of asbestos-related diseases and create a national research and treatment network.
Within the U.S. the consequences of hazardous asbestos exposures are of epidemic proportions. As many as 231,000 people have died from asbestos-related diseases in the U.S. since 1980; an equal number could die by 2040 according to testimony given at the hearing.3 Dr. David Weissman, from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, informed the Committee that deaths from the asbestos cancer mesothelioma are increasing. Dr. Richard A. Lemen, former Assistant Surgeon General, testified:
Today we know that various cancers, including lung cancer, gastrointestinal cancers, and mesothelioma are all causally associated with exposure to asbestos. I cannot tell any of you, on this Committee, why some will develop asbestosis or asbestos-related cancers and why others won't. But what I can tell you is that asbestos-induced diseases are preventable.
Mrs. Linda Reinstein, whose husband Alan died tragically from mesothelioma in 2006, spoke of the devastation asbestos disease brings to American families:
Most Americans trust their air, soil and water are safe from toxic contaminants but as victims, we know the truth. For a century, asbestos exposure has been linked to incurable diseases, yet we continue to face an enormous man-made public health crisis The stress and trauma is life altering for those Americans with known asbestos exposure waiting for time to reveal their medical fate... Mesothelioma patients' medical expenses can exceed $1 million until death.
According to Environmental Consultant Dr. Barry Castleman, every hour someone dies in the U.S. from an asbestos-related disease. The illegal absence of warnings on the labels of contaminated goods continues to endanger human life; unsuspecting users of asbestos-contaminated products such as Durham's Water Putty, on sale at hardware stores across the country, are still being exposed to this lethal material. Dr. Castleman urged the Senators to ban asbestos in the U.S. now. It is long past time for the U.S. to take a 21st century position on this issue and catch up to Croatia by banning asbestos.
Two of the witnesses, Drs. David Weill and Anne Wylie, were singled out for special attention by Chairwoman Boxer who, towards the end of the session, questioned them about their connections to U.S. asbestos defendants. After some very uncomfortable moments, they were both forced to admit their industry links. Senator Boxer also asked Wylie why she, a geologist, was prepared to testify as to the health effects of asbestos exposures when the United States Geological Survey categorically stated that this subject was not within a geologist's expertise. Having not yet finished with Dr. Weill, the Chair picked up on his earlier comments about what was and was not a tolerable risk. Failing to receive a satisfactory explanation from him, she asked Mrs. Reinstein whether her daughter felt the loss of her Father was tolerable. In just a few words, the asbestos widow spoke eloquently about her family's loss. No one in the chamber was left in any doubt that even one death from asbestos was unacceptable and that the continued use of asbestos in the U.S. was unconscionable. Drawing the hearings to a close, Senator Boxer pledged her support for the Ban Asbestos in America Act.
In six years, this is the most significant progress Murray's bill has made. The June 12 meeting, which was the first full committee hearing to consider the bill, marked a milestone in the bill's passage through Congress. Once the draft legislation receives EPW approval, it goes to the full Senate and the House of Representatives. It could reach the Senate floor after the Summer recess and become law by the end of 2007.
June 14, 2007
1 Video webcast: http://epw.senate.gov
Alternatively go to the following link and view archive webcast:
2 Opening Statement of U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer EPW Hearing on the Health Effects of Asbestos. June 12, 2007. http://epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Majority.PressReleases&ContentRecord_id=205be312-802a-23ad-4cf5-056f9a009147&Designation=Majority