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Senator Murray Questions Whether New OSHA Nominee Will Aggressively Protect Americans from Deadly Asbestos

Feb 03 2006

Murray raises concerns after hearing disappointing answers from Bush Administration nominee

WASHINGTON, D.C.) – This week, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) said she was deeply disturbed that the Bush Administration's choice to head the Occupational Safety and Health Administration appeared to have an inadequate understanding of the dangers American workers and consumers face everyday from deadly asbestos.

Each year, more than 10,000 Americans die of asbestos-related diseases. Since 2001, Murray has been working to protect workers and consumers from asbestos. She has introduced legislation to ban the importation and use of asbestos in consumer products like brake pads, roofing tiles and hairdryers. Murray is concerned that unless the next OSHA chief understands the dangers and is committed to taking action, millions of Americans will continue to die from needless asbestos exposure.

On Tuesday (1/31) at a hearing of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Senator Murray questioned Edwin Foulke, Jr., who was nominated by President Bush to run OSHA as an Assistant Secretary of Labor. OSHA is the federal government's principal worker health and safety agency and is charged with protecting millions of Americans workers around the country.

Murray expressed concern at the nominee's professional background. Mr. Foulke is a partner at a large national law firm that is known for defending corporate clients against workers' claims. Murray told Foulke she was concerned about "whether you are going to be advocating for workers" as OSHA's new head.

Turning to asbestos, Murray asked Mr. Foulke if he believes "OSHA should propose a ban on the use of asbestos in the United States?"

In his answer, Mr. Foulke said it was his understanding that asbestos was not being used in the United States. Murray corrected the nominee, noting that asbestos is still imported into the U.S. in consumer products.

Because Senator Murray's time to question the nominee had ended, she sent the nominee a series of follow-up questions to better gauge his understanding of – and commitment to – protecting workers from asbestos.

Murray said she will review Mr. Foulke's answers and decide whether or not to support his nomination. The next step is for the HELP Committee to hold an executive session to discuss and vote on Mr. Foulke's nomination. A date for that meeting has not been announced.

A partial transcript of the exchange follows:


Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Senator Murray. This country still allows the use of asbestos in the industry. Do you think that OSHA should propose a ban on the use of asbestos in the United States?

Mr. Foulke. Well, Senator, I look at it from an OSHA perspective. We do have our asbestos standard in place, and I think that as long as we are assuring that that standard is being enforced, that employees and workers will not be exposed to asbestos, utilizing that--

Senator Murray. So you think it is okay to have it here as long as we are just watching our workers?

Mr. Foulke. It is my understanding that asbestos was no longer being utilized in--

Senator Murray. Asbestos is being used in this country today.

Mr. Foulke. Well, on that issue, if the Congress was going to be promulgating some type of standard or some type of regulation, I would be happy to work with you on that and provide input.

Senator Murray. Well, I will submit a number of questions on the record. Asbestos still is imported and used in a number of products in this country, including brakes, and we are trying to deal with the health outcome of that. And it seems to me the first thing we should do is ban the use of it, and I will submit a number of questions to the record on that issue, and several others, Mr. Chairman.


Video of the exchange.

More on Senator Murray's work to ban asbestos

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