Lawmaker Seeks Full Asbestos Ban, Says Health Risks Outweigh Benefits

A group of Congressional representatives are calling on local and state leaders to pass legislation that would fully ban the use of asbestos, due to the continuing risk of mesothelioma and other health problems, which outweigh any benefits provided by the limited uses that are still approved.

At a press conference this week, New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. and other representatives discussed The Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act (H.R. 1603), which was introduced in March to enact a complete ban on the production, use, and importation of asbestos in the United States.

Asbestos was widely used in American commercial product manufacturing throughout the 20th century and was embedded in thousands of products before the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began passing regulations on asbestos in the 1970’s when research linked asbestos exposure to mesothelioma.

Exposure to asbestos fibers has been linked to a number of forms of respiratory illnesses and cancer, such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis.

According to Pallone, more than 40,000 asbestos related deaths are still recorded every year around the globe. The Congressman further stated in a press release that approximately 160,000 Americans have died from asbestos related injuries between 1999 and 2013.

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that is associated with asbestos exposure. As a result of a long latency period of between 20 and 40 years between exposure to asbestos and diagnosis, the cancer is often at a very advanced stage by the time it is discovered and usually results in death.

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing on the legislation on May 8.

“Twenty-eight years of frustration, of sickness and loss,” Pallone said in his opening remarks (PDF). “We have known the dangers of asbestos for decades. Enough is enough.”

Currently, asbestos is banned for use in corrugated paper, roll board, commercial paper, and specialty paper, flooring felt and new commercial uses that begin after August 25, 1989. However, even though the fibrous material is toxic even in small amounts, it is still in use in some industries. It is frequently used in automobile brake pads and clutches, vinyl tiles and roofing materials.

Pallone notes that asbestos has been banned in more than 60 countries and is the number one cause of work-related deaths in the world, yet the United States still continues to import and use the cancer-causing material in every day products, despite recognizing its potential dangers more than 40 years ago.

Pallone and the bill’s other sponsors are encouraging local and state lawmakers to join their efforts to protect workers from asbestos diseases, which contributes to more than 40,000 deaths every year.

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