(WASHINGTON, DC) -- Today, Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) introduced a bill to ban deadly asbestos.
Murray explained her bill at a press conference joined by Senator Paul Wellstone (D-Minn), Senator Mark Dayton (D-Minn), Susan Vento, Lt. Colonel James Zumwalt, and Brian Harvey, a mesothelioma survivor from Washington state.
Senator Murray's bill is also co-sponsored by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash) and Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont).
Senator Murray's remarks at the press conference follow:
Today -- standing with Senators and victims of asbestos -- I'm proud to unveil new legislation that will finally protect Americans from the dangers of asbestos. Today, Senators Baucus, Cantwell, Dayton, Wellstone and I will be introducing the Ban Asbestos in America Act of 2002.
This morning, we're joined by three people who know the hazards of asbestos first-hand. I'm honored that Mrs. Susan Vento is with us today. Two years ago, her husband -- Congressman Bruce Vento of Minnesota -- died from mesothelioma -- a disease caused by asbestos. Susan -- like me -- your husband was an educator who found his way here to Congress. His work left a lasting mark on issues like the environment and the homeless during his twelve terms in the House, and today you're continuing his legacy.
We're also joined by Lt. Colonel Jim Zumwalt, who is here in memory of his father -- the late Admiral Elmo Zumwalt -- who died from the disease in 2000. Colonel, we're honored that you're here today in memory of your father – who was a respected military leader and a dedicated public servant.
We're also joined by Mr. Brian Harvey, a mesothelioma survivor from Washington state. He is living proof that with early detection and advanced treatment, people can defeat this disease.
Finally, I want to thank the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation for the valuable input it has provided on this bill and on today's announcement.
We're here today to make sure that all Americans know that asbestos is still not banned and is still not safe. Today, men and women are dying because they handled asbestos or were exposed to products which contain asbestos. To this day, some of those products still contain asbestos. While other countries have banned asbestos and protected their citizens, the United States still has not and that's why we're introducing this bill today.
Like most Americans, I thought asbestos had been banned. In 1989, the EPA tried to ban it, but that effort was overturned in a lawsuit from the asbestos industry. In 1999, reporter Andrew Schneider and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer starting publishing articles about a disturbing trend in the small mining town of Libby, Montana. Residents there are suffering from high rates of asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
These findings prompted Montana Senator Max Baucus to ask EPA to investigate. The agency found that the vermiculite mine near Libby -- which operated from the 1920s until 1990 -- is full of tremolite asbestos.
EPA is still working to clean up Libby, which is now a Superfund site. The mining company -- W.R. Grace -- had evidence of the harmful health effects of its product, but did not warn workers, residents or consumers. I held a hearing on this in July of last year.
Unfortunately, contaminated material from the Libby mine was shipped to more than 300 sites around the country for processing. It was used to make products like home insulation and soil additives. This chart shows all of the sites that processed contaminated vermiculite.
EPA and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry have determined that 22 sites are still contaminated today including one in Spokane, Washington. At many plants where vermiculite from Libby was processed, waste rock left over from the expansion process was given away for free. People used this free waste rock in their yards, driveways and gardens. This picture shows Justin and Tim Jorgensen climbing on waste rock given out by Western Minerals, Inc. in St. Paul, Minnesota sometime in the 1970s.
According to W.R. Grace records, this rock contained between 2 and 10 percent tremolite asbestos. This rock produced airborne asbestos concentrations 135 times higher than OSHA's current standard for workers.
Today, people may still be exposing themselves to harmful amounts of asbestos in vermiculite. As many as 35 million homes and businesses may have insulation made with harmful minerals from Libby. EPA has also tested agricultural products -- soil conditioners and fertilizers -- made with vermiculite, and determined that some workers may have been exposed to dangerous amounts.
As I learned more about Libby, and how asbestos has ended up in products by accident, I was shocked to learn that asbestos is still being used in products on purpose.
While some specific uses have been banned, the EPA's more sweeping ban was never put into effect because of a lawsuit backed by the asbestos industry. As a result, new uses of asbestos were banned, but most existing uses were not banned. Today, asbestos is still used to make roofing products, gaskets, brakes and other products. In 2001, the U.S. consumed 13,000 metric tons of it.
Asbestos is still entering the product stream in America, despite the known dangers to human health. In contrast, asbestos has been banned in these 20 countries.
Now it's time for the United States to ban asbestos too. According to EPA, 27 million Americans had significant asbestos exposure on the job between 1940 and 1980. I want to ensure our government does all it can to minimize future suffering and death caused by this deadly material. That is why today we are introducing the Ban Asbestos in America Act of 2002. The legislation has four parts.
First, this bill protects the public by requiring the EPA to ban asbestos by 2005. Like the regulations EPA finalized in 1989, companies may file for an exemption to the ban: if there is no substitute material available and the EPA determines the exemption won't pose an unreasonable risk of injury to public health or the environment.
Second, the bill requires EPA to conduct a public education campaign about the risks of asbestos products. We need to warn people that their home insulation -- if made with vermiculite -- may be contaminated with asbestos. Home owners and workers may be unknowingly exposing themselves to asbestos when they conduct routine maintenance near this insulation. While EPA has agreed to remove vermiculite insulation from homes in Libby, the agency currently has no plans to do this nationwide.
The legislation also requires EPA to conduct a survey to determine which foreign and domestic products consumed in the United States today have been made with asbestos. EPA has estimated as many as 3,000 products still contain asbestos. Our bill also bans the importation of products containing asbestos.
Third, the legislation invests in research, tracking and treatment of asbestos diseases. It authorizes funding for 7 mesothelioma treatment centers nationwide to improve treatments for and awareness of this fatal cancer.
Finally, the bill requires EPA to expand its Blue Ribbon Panel on Asbestos to address issues beyond the six regulated forms of asbestos.
Before I turn it over to Senator Wellstone, I want to mention that I have a special section of my web page about asbestos. On my website, you can also join my asbestos email list. The address is http://murray.senate.gov
Over the years, asbestos has taken a staggering toll on our country. Today we will hear from three people about how asbestos disease affected them. And while we continue to mourn the loss of Congressman Bruce Vento, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, more than 200 people from Libby and thousands of others, today our message is one of hope. We hope that by continuing to work together, we will build support for the Ban Asbestos in America Act.