Richard Wiles, Executive Director of the Environmental Working Group, issued a statement on 4 September 2007 praising the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s adoption of S. 742, the Ban Asbestos in America Act of 2007. Reintroduced in March 2007 by Washington State Senator Patty Murray, the bill would prohibit virtually all asbestos imports as well as the manufacture and distribution of asbestos-containing products and materials.
Wiles said, “Senator Murray, Chairman Boxer and the Senate committee sent a clear message that asbestos has no place in the marketplace. Hundreds of thousands of families have suffered the loss of loved ones in large part due to government inaction. Asbestos is responsible for at least 10,000 deaths a year, which is 10,000 too many. Now, the full Congress needs to step up to the plate and put the public’s health first by sending this bill to the President.” A Long Road The history of recent asbestos legislation is almost as tortured as the over sixty years of corporate lies and deception that preceded it. Those lies and cover-ups were exposed in 1977, but it was twelve years before any meaningful steps were taken to ban asbestos. In 1989, the EPA attempted to institute a ban, but this was overturned two years later in a federal court, bowing once again to corporate pressure.
In 1999, the Supreme Court overturned a $1.5 billion dollar settlement that would have resolved claims against a major asbestos manufacture on behalf of 186,000 plaintiffs; in the majority decision, the justices had concluded that there was a “possible conflict of interest” on the part of the plaintiffs’ legal counsel. The turning point was a series of articles in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer which appeared in late 1999 and early 2000. This series brought the small town of Libby, Montana to national attention – and the fact that over a forty year period, nearly 200 people had died of asbestos diseases, and over 350 more had been diagnosed. It was this series of articles that motivated Senator Murray to introduce legislation banning asbestos in 2002. Due to corporate lobbying and partisan bickering however, the bill was stalled in committee for over five years. S. 742 Today With the shift in power as a result of the 2006 mid-term elections, Senator Murray was able to re-introduce her bill in March of 2007. In addition to banning the importation and most uses of asbestos in the U.S. (minor exceptions are made for NASA and the DoD), S. 742 requires the EPA to “increase awareness” of asbestos issues. Under the bill, the Department of Health and Human Services and the NIH will be required to establish an extensive research and treatment network for asbestos diseases.