(Washington, D.C.) This week, Senator Murray continued her three-year campaign to protect Americans from deadly asbestos with a column in the Spartanburg (South Carolina) Journal-Herald (www.goupstate.com) on September 7, 2003.
Since 2000, Murray has been working to raise public awareness about the dangers of asbestos.
In the column, Murray urged citizens to help educate lawmakers about the need to ban asbestos.
"If enough citizens make their voices heard, we can pass legislation that will make a difference," Murray wrote.
The full column follows:
IT'S TIME TO BAN THIS KILLER
by SENATOR PATTY MURRAY
"Don't go in the attic." That's the storyline of many silly horror films, but for millions of Americans, there is a real danger in the attic that's worse than any movie script.
For years, an insulation called Zonolite was placed in the attics of up to 35 million American homes and businesses. This insulation contains asbestos, a deadly fiber that causes cancer and other diseases. If you work in your attic or remodel your home, you could inhale invisible asbestos fibers. These fibers settle in the lungs, causing scarring and eventually death.
Each year, more than 2,000 Americans die from mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos exposure. Most homeowners aren't even aware of this danger.
Earlier this year, I pressured the Environmental Protection Agency to finally launch a public awareness campaign. The message is simple: Never touch or disturb insulation that could contain asbestos. Before you work or let your children play in the attic, hire a professional to test the insulation.
But asbestos is more than just a forgotten problem in the attic. It's an ongoing threat to thousands of Americans in their daily lives, from the 750,000 auto mechanics who repair brakes to thousands of construction workers from coast to coast.
Here's the worst part: Even though we've known for decades that asbestos kills, asbestos still is put in consumer products on purpose today. In 2001, more than 26 million pounds of asbestos were added to products like brakes and roofing materials. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, an estimated 1.3 million employees in construction and general industry still face significant asbestos exposure on the job.
Like most Americans, I thought that asbestos had been banned a long time ago. In 1989, the EPA tried to ban asbestos, but the asbestos industry overturned the ban in court. Since then, some forms of asbestos have been regulated, but you still can find asbestos in products on the shelves at your local home center or auto parts store.
Since 2000, I've been working in the United States Senate to finally ban asbestos. My bill, the Ban Asbestos in America Act (S. 1115), requires the EPA to ban asbestos within two years and to conduct a public education campaign to protect our citizens. It also calls for the EPA to find out what products on our shelves currently contain asbestos, and it invests in research and treatment for patients with asbestos diseases.
As you can imagine, the asbestos industry doesn't like my bill and has used a host of arguments to defeat it. For example, the industry claims that there aren't any good substitutes for asbestos. That's nonsense. Germany banned asbestos years ago and today uses other materials in the brakes of its automobiles. No one would say that German cars are any less safe than American cars because their brakes don't use asbestos. But American mechanics are less safe because they work on brakes that contain deadly asbestos.
America's workers -- from auto mechanics to construction workers -- deserve to be protected from this danger.
Unfortunately, America is far behind the rest of the world on this public safety issue. More than 30 other countries, including the European Union, have banned -- or are in the process of banning -- asbestos. Even Latvia and Slovenia have banned asbestos. Don't American workers deserve to be protected from this silent killer, too?
In May, a landmark report commissioned by the EPA called for a ban on the production, manufacture and distribution of asbestos in the United States. I've introduced such legislation in the Senate. In July, I worked with Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee to include a modified ban on asbestos in the Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act, which addresses asbestos liability. The future of that legislation is unclear, but the need to ban asbestos remains.
It will take citizens to overcome the asbestos lobby and finally protect American workers. As I've pushed my bill in Congress, one of the biggest hurdles has been the assumption of many senators and representatives that asbestos was banned long ago. Citizens can help legislators get the facts and help them protect our fellow citizens.
Unlike a Hollywood movie, the story of asbestos in America will not have a happy ending. People who are exposed to asbestos today will continue to suffer and eventually die from it decades into the future, but we can save a new generation from this killer. If enough citizens make their voices heard, we can pass legislation that will make a difference.
It's time to ban this killer and finally protect America's workers.