Senate Passes Asbestos Awareness Resolution, Inches Closer to Ban

Legislation & Litigation

The U.S. Senate unanimously passed its annual National Asbestos Awareness Week resolution, inching closer to long-awaited, much-anticipated legislation to ban the toxic substance.

The bipartisan resolution urged the Office of the Surgeon General to warn and better educate citizens about the public health issues of asbestos exposure, the primary cause of mesothelioma cancer.

Advocates welcomed the resolution designating April 1-7 as the official Awareness Week, believing more widespread education will increase the likelihood of a legislative ban in the future.

“I think the resolution shows unanimous understanding of the facts. There is no safe level of exposure,” said Linda Reinstein, president and founder of Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization. “Are we any closer to a ban now? Yes, I think the more people learn about the dangers of asbestos, how prevention is the cure, the closer we get to a ban.”

Montana Senators Take the Lead

The Senate resolution was passed March 29. Montana Senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines co-sponsored the resolution.

Libby, Montana is home to an infamous vermiculite/asbestos mine, where thousands have been sickened through the years and almost 700 have died as a result of its presence.

The mine was closed in 1990 and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency placed Libby on its Superfund National Priorities List in 2002 to begin decontamination efforts. Those efforts only recently concluded.

“Asbestos has a long, troubling history in Montana, and too many families continue to suffer from exposure to this toxic substance,” Tester said. “It’s past time we outlaw the use of asbestos. It’s critical that we arm folks with the most up to date information possible so that we keep people safe, and make asbestos exposure a thing of the past.”

Although asbestos is heavily regulated in the U.S. today – and consumption has dramatically dropped in recent decades – there is no outright ban of the product. There is, however, no mining of asbestos today in the country.

Legacy Asbestos Remains Big Problem

An estimated 300 metric tons of raw asbestos were imported in 2020 – the second smallest amount in 50 years – but all of it was used by the chloralkali industry.

A small but unknown amount of asbestos within manufactured products, such as brake blocks used in the oil industry, friction products and rubber sheets for gaskets, are also still being imported.

One of the biggest threats to people today is legacy asbestos, stemming from decades of unbridled used of the product. The EPA is scheduled to finish Part 2 of its Final Risk Evaluation in 2024, which will include legacy asbestos.

The closest the U.S. came to a ban was in 1989 when the EPA issued the Asbestos Ban and Phase-Out Rule, but it was overturned in court two years later.

Close to a Ban in 2020

In recent years, both the House of Representatives and the Senate showed bipartisan support for a legislative ban, but the measure failed to receive a vote.

The Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Act Now of 2020 – named after Linda Reinstein’s husband who died of mesothelioma more than a decade ago – was suddenly dropped from consideration by the House of Representatives after last-minute provisions were added to the bill that went beyond what had been negotiated..

New drafts of the legislation are currently being explored for the next Congressional session.

World-Wide Awareness Week

The U.S. Senate Resolution mirrors the same April 1-7 dates of the Global Asbestos Awareness Week, which is orchestrated by the nonprofit ADAO.

Its program – entitled Asbestos: One Word, One Week, One World – involves videos, stories and educational resources presented by leading experts and organizations throughout the world.

Most of the materials will be translated into five different languages.

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