Ever since Patty Murray, Democratic senator from Washington State, learned of the plight of the people of Libby, Montana, she has worked tirelessly to introduce legislation to rid the U.S. of deadly asbestos. Spokane, the easternmost city in Washington, is only about 70 miles southwest of Libby as the crow flies, and many asbestos disease victims were diagnosed and/or treated at medical facilities there.
Unfortunately, Senator Murray’s first efforts, undertaken in 2002, were stymied by a Congress firmly beholden to large corporate interests and adamantly against anything that would be of help to working people. This year, Senators Patty Murray and Barbara Boxer of California, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), have finally passed Senate Bill 742, the Ban Asbestos In America Act of 2007, out of committee. This bill will soon be considered by the full Senate. Last summer, as the bill took final shape, volunteers of the advocacy group known as the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADOA) were able to work with the EPW Committee to add recommendation on language that would strengthen the bill and make it more comprehensive.
Among ADOA recommendations were funding for medical research covering other types of asbestos diseases in addition to mesothelioma, such as asbestosis. The latest bill also addresses the issue of asbestos contained in many consumer goods (primarily from China) currently on the U.S. market. The bill, if and when it becomes law, would also require EPA testing of such products and the publication of test results. In its present form, SB 742 will amend the Toxic Substances Control Act, making asbestos a banned substance. Such a ban was passed in 1989 by the EPA, but was struck down by a federal court under corporate pressure in 1991. The new bill restores these bans and requires the EPA to respond to individual citizen complaints on asbestos issues.