Bill Reintroduced to Ban Asbestos, Set Up Mesothelioma Registry

SB 1115 Would Finalize the Ban of Asbestos Use in Products

WASHINGTON, D.C.-June 6, 2003-Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) has reintroduced legislation to ban the manufacture, processing, import, or distribution of asbestos-containing products in the United States. She had sponsored a very similar asbestos billin 2002, but it was defeated in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The current Ban Asbestos in America Act of 2003 (S.B. 1115) would:

  • Require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue final regulations banning the use of six types of asbestos within two years after the bill becomes law.
    These types of asbestos are chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, anthophyllite, tremolite, and actinolite-all regulated forms of asbestos originally scheduled to be banned by the EPA in 1989.
  • Require the National Academy of Science (NAS) to study the asbestos issue.
    The NAS would review the health effects of asbestos exposure as well as recommend asbestos detection and exposure standards.
  • Create a blue ribbon panel to review current asbestos laws and make recommendations for improvement.
    The panel would be comprised of government labor and public health officials, industry, school officials, labor organizations, and members of the public.
  • Establish a national mesothelioma registry to track the victims of the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma; create mesothelioma treatment centers.
    The bill would provide $10 million dollars per year for five years to create and finance 10 mesothelioma treatment centers. The head of the National Institute of Health would expand research programs on asbestos diseases, includingasbestosis and mesothelioma.
  • Require the EPA to identify asbestos-containing products, determine how they are used by the public, and conduct an educational campaign.
    The EPA would study consumer products that may contain asbestos such as roofing materials, brake pads, and gaskets. It would also look at asbestos-contaminated vermiculite insulation, which may have been used in as many as 35 million homes nationwide. The EPA must then conduct a public awareness campaign about asbestos, including asbestos in vermiculite. The EPA has already begun distributing pamphlets and other educational materials about vermiculite insulation (see EPA Issues Vermiculite Insulation Warning). However, Ms. Murray states that she wants to ensure the agency's continuing commitment to informing consumers about vermiculite.

Recent EPA-Funded Study Urges Asbestos Ban

A recent report, funded by the EPA, may bolster the chances of passing S.B. 1115. After a year's study concerning asbestos exposure, the non-profit Global Environment & Technology foundation urged a legislative ban on asbestos, favoring the elimination of asbestos products by a specified date. It also recommended that the definition of asbestos be expanded to include all asbestiform or asbestos-like amphiboles, in addition to the currently regulated forms of asbestos. Finally, it strongly urged the Centers for Disease Control to join with state public health departments in creating a national mesothelioma registry.

"It is surprising that a ban was recommended, and its importance cannot be overstated," said J. Brent Kynoch, a managing director of Environmental Information Association, which represents environmental industry professionals (Andrew Schneider, St Louis Post-Dispatch, May 3, 2003). "The recommendations have major significance because the EPA funded the collection of information," he said.

The Political Fight to Eliminate Asbestos

Part of the problem with securing passage for S.B. 1115 is that many people in the United States incorrectly believe that asbestos has been banned in this country and that there is no risk of exposure to asbestos through the use of commercial products. However, in the year 2000, the United States consumed 15,000 metric tons of asbestos, according to the United States Geological Survey. The figure was 13,000 tons in 2001. The asbestos went into roofing material, gaskets, friction products, and numerous other consumer products.

Another issue that S.B. 1115 supporters must grapple with is the intense pressure against an asbestos ban from manufacturers of asbestos products. This time around, Ms. Murray has enlisted the support of six co-sponsors: Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Sen. James Jeffords (I-VT), Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sen. Mark Dayton (D-MN), and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Also, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA, District 30) has introduced H.R. 2277 in the House. It is identical to S.B. 1115.

"... I've been told I'm taking on fights that are too big. Well, this fight is big and...I'll tell you we have to do this," Ms. Murray said about S.B. 1115. "It is the right thing to do, and I will fight every single day to get this done," she said (Charles Pope, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 23, 2003).

Twenty-Five Countries Now Ban Asbestos; the European Union Will Follow in 2005

Other nations have recognized the serious health hazards posed by asbestos exposure and asbestos products. Twenty-five countries now ban the substance. They are Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Chile, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Saudi Arabia, the Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. The list contains five more countries than it did in June 2002, when Ms. Murray first introduced a ban-asbestos bill. By 2005, asbestos will be prohibited throughout the European Union.

Brayton Purcell Supports Eliminating the Use of Asbestos in Products

At Brayton Purcell, we endorse efforts to reduce exposures to asbestos as "there is no safe level of asbestos" (United States Code Title 20, Chapter 49, Section 3601, Education Code). We also support the attempts of regulatory agencies to eradicate the use of asbestos in products. If you have any questions about your own asbestos exposure or that of family members, please feel free tocontact us. We have extensive experience in asbestos litigation, and are available to discuss your legal options.