Senate Committee Considers Ban Asbestos in America Act

S. 742 Also Provides for Mesothelioma and Asbestos Cancer Research

WASHINGTON, DC — June 22, 2007 — Contrary to what some people believe, our nation is not among the 30 countries that have banned asbestos. Now, for the third time, Sen. Patty Murray (D–WA) is attempting to get federal legislation passed that would halt the import, manufacture, processing and distribution of asbestos products in the United States.

The current bill, the Ban Asbestos in America Act of 2007 (S. 742), was the subject of a recent hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works. Sen. Murray emphasized these points:

  • Asbestos is deadly, killing up to 10,000 Americans per year. There is no known safe level of exposure.
  • Asbestos devastates families and communities.
  • Every day that we wait to ban asbestos, we are "sentencing more Americans to an early and avoidable death."

In addition to presenting facts and figures, Sen. Murray mentioned two asbestos victims who fought for an asbestos ban. George "Fred" Biekkola was exposed to asbestos in Michigan mines for almost 30 years and died of mesothelioma, an aggressive asbestos–related cancer. Years ago, at another Senate hearing, he had said "Senators, please make sure that what happened to me won't happen to anyone else. Workers like me are counting on you to protect us." Brian Harvey, a Washington teacher, died of asbestos cancer. He had spent six long years speaking out against asbestos hazards.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D–CA) noted that workers may track asbestos into their homes on their shoes or clothing, endangering the health of their children and spouses, and that environmental asbestos exposure can be harmful. She gave examples of two women who died of mesothelioma. Margarito Martinez, the wife of a plasterer, had cleaned her husband's asbestos–laden clothes. Georgina Bryson's house was located near two cement companies that used asbestos. She may also have been exposed to asbestos through her father, who lived in the house and worked with asbestos–containing gaskets.

Environmental consultant Barry Castleman, ScD, testified about asbestos products and on–the–job asbestos exposure. Various imported products may contain asbestos, including brakes, gaskets, roofing felts, yarn and thread. Some of these products are improperly labeled, according to Mr. Castleman, and do not refer to asbestos. Mr. Castleman also spoke about asbestos contamination in talc, stone and vermiculite, a material that is heated and expanded for use in soil conditioners and insulation. In addition, asbestos is used in the diaphragm–cell process for making chlorine.

S. 742 Provides for Mesothelioma and Asbestos Research

Besides banning asbestos, S. 742 focuses on asbestos disease research and education. The bill would create a $50 million, 10–center "Asbestos–Related Disease Research and Treatment Network" with the mission of improving the detection and treatment of asbestos diseases, especially mesothelioma. A new National Asbestos–Related Disease Registry would be established. The bill requires a public education campaign about asbestos dangers and supports asbestos disease research by the Department of Defense that would benefit veterans.

You can find the text of S. 742 as well as a summary of the bill on the Library of Congress (Thomas) web site. The web site of the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works includes complete testimonies of the experts at the committee hearing on S. 742.