Senators Introduce Bill to Ban Asbestos, Protect Public Health

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley, along with Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jon Tester (D-MT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) today introduced the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act of 2017, legislation to eliminate human or environmental exposure to asbestos, a known carcinogen.

“It’s outrageous that in the year 2017, asbestos is still allowed in the United States,” said Merkley. “It’s time for us to catch up to the rest of the developed world, and ban this dangerous public health threat once and for all.”

“There’s no excuse for the fact that asbestos is still legal in the US, even though we know how unsafe it is,” said Booker. “Breathing clean air shouldn’t be a luxury – it’s a right. This common sense bill will ban asbestos once and for all.”

“Delays in banning asbestos mean as many as 15,000 Americans die each year,” said Feinstein. “Despite knowing the health risks for decades, asbestos is still used in a wide variety of construction materials that the public unwittingly comes in contact with every day. We can no longer afford to wait, Congress must ban asbestos now.”

“Banning asbestos will save lives. An estimated 10,000-15,000 Americans die each year from asbestos related diseases – and thirty percent of victims are veterans,” said Durbin. “Dozens of other countries have banned this dangerous product and it is inexplicable that the United States has failed to do so. We must protect Americans and their families from the scourge of asbestos once and for all.” 

“Asbestos has already taken the lives of too many Montanans, and banning this harmful substance will prevent the future loss of life,” Tester said.  “Just ask the families in Libby and Troy Montana; there’s no place for asbestos in our communities. This bill will protect families, our environment, and our communities.”

“Asbestos is a known killer.  Human beings shouldn’t be exposed to it.  Period,” said Whitehouse. “We’ve made a lot of progress in protecting Americans’ health and safety from toxic substances recently, but we must do more.  I’m proud to cosponsor this bill to help erase a serious public safety risk.”

“The devastating and long-lasting effects of asbestos exposure continue to impact American families,” said Markey. “We must never lose sight of the on-going problem that asbestos presents as long as it is present in our environment. It is time we ban asbestos for good, and this legislation is an important step in our efforts to rid our country of this toxic hazard.”

The bill is named after Alan Reinstein, who passed away in 2006 at the age of 66 from mesothelioma, a disease caused by exposure to asbestos. Alan’s wife, Linda, co-founded the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) in 2004.

“ADAO is extremely thankful to Senator Merkley for championing the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act (ARBAN) of 2017,” said Linda Reinstein. “With the increase in asbestos imports and more than 15,000 Americans dying each year from asbestos exposure, the timing of the bill is critical. Nearly forty years have passed since the EPA tried to ban asbestos with the overwhelming scientific evidence reaffirming that asbestos is a carcinogen and there is no safe or controlled use. Moving forward to ban asbestos will save dollars and lives. It’s time to make asbestos a thing of the past in this nation once and for all.”

Asbestos is still legal in the United States, even though it has been banned in most other developed countries. Asbestos in all forms is known to be a leading cause of mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other chronic respiratory diseases.

Although the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) included asbestos on its list of the first ten chemicals for risk reviews under the 2016 revised Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), EPA’s safety assessment must be completed before EPA can consider any controls on asbestos, and the EPA is not required to ban it.

Despite the bipartisan spirit of the historic agreement to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act last year, President Trump has made clear he intends to blow up that agreement through his nomination of Michael Dourson to run the EPA’s chemical safety division. Dourson has made his career as a paid scientist for the chemical industry, and in case after case has claimed that dangerous chemicals are much safer for public health than independent scientists have found them to be. Because of the threat that Dourson represents to public health and to any meaningful implementation of the 2016 TSCA agreement, Congress must act to make sure asbestos, a chemical everyone knows is dangerous, is taken off the market once and for all.

Specifically, today’s legislation would:

  • Amend TSCA to require the EPA to identify and assess known uses of, and exposures to all forms of asbestos.
  • Require that, within 18 months of enactment, the EPA must impose restrictions on the use of asbestos necessary to eliminate human or environmental exposure to all forms of asbestos.
  • Within one year, disallow the manufacturing, processing, use or distribution of commerce asbestos other than described in EPA’s rule.

The bill is endorsed by a wide range of organizations, including the American Public Health Association (APHA), Center for Asbestos Related Disease (CARD), Libby, MT, Environmental Information Association (EIA), Environmental Working Group (EWG), Global Ban Asbestos Network (GBAN), Less Cancer, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families (SCHF), and internationally, Associação Brasileira dos Expostos ao Amianto (ABREA).