"How many more Americans have to die before our government finally does the right thing and bans asbestos?" Murray asked at the hearing. "We have to do the right thing, and we have to do it now."
At the hearing, Murray held up photos of two advocates who worked with Murray to ban asbestos over the years, but who have since died from asbestos diseases. Murray honored Brian Harvey of Marysville, Washington and George "Fred" Biekkola of Michigan, saying "Fred and Brian are not with us, but their words hang over this hearing."
Murray noted that up to 10,000 Americans die from asbestos exposure, and that asbestos is still put in consumer and industrial products on purpose. Murray held up a box of brake pads that are made with asbestos, which often pose an unknown hazard to auto mechanics.
Also testifying was John Thayer, a pipefitter-welder and supervisor of the 10-man power plant tunnel crew which maintains the heating and cooling systems beneath the U.S. Capitol. Mr. Thayer, who works for the Architect of the Capitol (AOC), said he and his crew have been exposed to asbestos on the job.
"Just over a year ago, we found out that the AOC had been misleading us for years about the extent of our workplace exposure to asbestos," Thayer said. "We asked to see the medical records from our annual employment physicals conducted by the Office of Attending Physician. My own records stated that my lung age was 118 years old. I was 33 at the time. No one ever told me this: on the contrary, every year the doctor gave me a paper saying I was cleared to work in the tunnels. . . Even worse, the Architect had let us carry deadly asbestos home in our clothes every day for years, without telling us that this posed a real risk to our wives and children."
Other witnesses included: Dr. Barry Castleman, Dr. Harvey Pass, Mrs. Sue Vento, and Dr. Richard Wilson.
Mrs. Vento spoke about her husband, the late Congressman from Minnesota Bruce Vento, who died from asbestos exposure in 2000.
"On the morning of January 29, 2000, Bruce was told that he did not have lung cancer, but instead he was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma," Vento said. "Bruce wracked his brain to determine where he could have been exposed to asbestos. He later recalled those jobs at the factories and the brewery during the early 1960s. His exposure to asbestos was no more significant than that which so many Americans have experienced in their work and home settings."
Senator Murray held the hearing in her role as chairman of the Senate HELP Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety. The bill has already garnered support from more than a dozen other Senators, including Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who chairs the committee of jurisdiction, the Environment and Public Works Committee. Boxer joined Murray, Vento and Thayer at an afternoon press conference to express support for the bill.
Senate cosponsors include:
Senator Barbara Boxer, Senator Max Baucus, Senator Sherrod Brown, Senator Hillary Clinton, Senator Richard Durbin, Senator Russ Feingold, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Senator Tom Harkin, Senator John Kerry, Senator Edward Kennedy, Senator Patrick Leahy, Senator Harry Reid, Senator Maria Cantwell
Supporting organizations include:
AFL-CIO, Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, White Lung Association, International Ban Asbestos Secretariat, Environmental Information Association, Lincoln County Asbestos Victims' Relief Organization, and Pacific Health lung and Blood Institute.
Bill Summary | Facts About Asbestos
Mr. John Thayer, pipefitter & supervisor with the Office of the Architect of the Capitol, Washington, D.C.
Dr. Barry Castleman, environmental consultant and author, Garrett Park, MD
Dr. Harvey Pass, Professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery, New York School of Medicine, New York, NY
Mrs. Sue Vento, widow of Representative Bruce Vento, St. Paul, MN
Dr. Richard Wilson, Professor of Physics, Harvard University, Boston, MA