In a show of bi-partisanship that has been virtually non-existent for a quarter-century, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed S.B. 742, the “Ban Asbestos in America Act”, on 4 October 2007. It is a major victory for Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), who first introduced the bill six long years ago. The bill must still be approved in the House of Representatives; assuming that it passes there with a veto-proof majority, the United States will finally join forty other nations of the world in eliminating all uses of asbestos. It has been a hard and often lonely fight for Senator Murray: “When you go after an issue like this you’re fighting a lot of big time money, lobbyists for manufacturers, the sand and gravel folks, people with commercial interest and a lot of clout fought this… I wasn’t surprised that many other [lawmakers] didn’t want to get involved because they thought it was impossible.”
True to form, the White House was very active in its attempts to eliminate all debate on the subject. One of the major reasons that Murray’s bill took so long to come to the Senate floor was due to three years of attempts to push through alternative legislation, backed by the Bush Administration, which would have prevented asbestos victims from suing at all. Senator Murray says: “I have not heard a word from the president about vetoing the bill. We worked for months addressing every possible objection and I think the White House would have a very hard time vetoing this.” The law makes it illegal to import any products containing asbestos into the U.S. after 2010, and will outlaw all of the 3,000 products that now contain asbestos–including brake linings, ceiling tiles, vermiculite insulation, electric appliances, and more. Under the new law, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be required to ensure that all such products are removed from store shelves by that time. In addition, the law creates a $50 million network for the research and treatment of asbestos diseases, and requires the EPA to increase public awareness of asbestos dangers in the home and workplace.