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(SEATTLE, WA) – Standing with doctors, a patient, environmental experts, and advocates today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) announced that her bill to ban asbestos will take a major step forward this month when it is marked-up by the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee.  The "mark up" will be the first time Murray's bill makes it this far before this committee and reflects the bipartisan support Murray's legislation has gathered.

Murray made the announcement today at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.  

"Every day we waste is another day that someone else is exposed to asbestos, someone else gets a deadly diagnosis, and someone else loses a family member to a painful disease.  I'm committed to stopping this cycle," Murray said. 

Speaking in support of Murray's bill was Judy Clauson of Aberdeen.  She was unknowingly exposed to asbestos by washing the dust-covered clothing her former husband brought home from work each day.  In August 2006, she was diagnosed with mesothelioma, and the 44-year-old said she will be lucky to live another year.

"I want to see my sons get married and my grandkids born. I feel cheated. It is ludicrous that something as deadly as asbestos is still legal in this country," Clauson said. "How many people have to die?"

Dr. Eric Vallieres of the Swedish Cancer Institute said the bill will help with research and public awareness.

"The promotion of research is very lacking, and this bill helps to rectify that.  I also strongly believe we need to educate the people. I strongly support this bill," Dr. Vallieres said.

"We are fortunate to have our own Senator Murray as a national leader in the fight to ban asbestos," said Dr. Fred Appelbaum, head of Clinical Research Division at Fred Hutchison Center.

"This bill is long overdue. You have to have 'legislative starters' when the system gets stuck. It's so important to have a legislator step up," said Bill Rodgers, an environmental law professor at the University of Washington.

To demonstrate the availability of asbestos-laden products, Murray held up a pair of brake pads that were recently purchased in the Seattle area.

Murray started working to ban asbestos six years ago.  This March, she re-introduced her legislation, which bans asbestos, invests in research and treatment, and launches a public education campaign.  Her bill, the Ban Asbestos in America Act of 2007 (S. 742), already has 16 co-sponsors.  

On March 1st,  the bill got a hearing before Murray's Employment and Workplace Safety Subcommittee .  Then on June 12th, the bill got a hearing before the Environment and Public Works Committee, at which Senator Murray testified

Senator Murray's remarks (as prepared) follow:

Today I'm honored to stand here with people who know that we need to do much more to protect America's workers and families from deadly asbestos.  I'd like to thank Fred Hutch for hosting us today and for being a leader in the fight against cancer.  I'd also like to thank our other speakers for sharing their unique perspectives and working to ban asbestos in America once and for all.

I got involved in this fight six years ago -- after reading about the deadly toll asbestos takes on our nation’s workers, families, homeowners and communities.  Ever since that time, I've been introducing legislation, holding hearings, and trying to get Congress to act.  Unfortunately, some of the advocates who stood with me over the years lost their lives to asbestos diseases.  I promised them that I would keep up this fight until we got the job done, and that's why I'm here today.

Banning asbestos has been an uphill battle.  Many people think that asbestos is already banned in America, but we haven't.  Asbestos has not been banned in America.  It's still imported into the U.S. in consumer products, auto parts and construction material.

In fact, this week my staff purchased this box of brake pads at a local auto parts store.  These brake pads contain asbestos.  If a brake mechanic or car owner works on these brakes, they could be exposed to asbestos.  At another mechanic shop my staff picked up a box that did not say that it contained asbestos but it did have a warning that poor ventilation may cause lung disease.  When my staff member asked whether the product contained asbestos, the young mechanic there told her that, "the government banned asbestos years ago."

We've got to stop using asbestos products, start warning the public and investing in research and treatment.   

Our region has been seriously affected by asbestos exposure.  According to the Environmental Working Group- a nonprofit environmental research organization based in Washington, D.C.:

  • Washington state has the 8th highest incidence of deaths from asbestos related exposures in the country.

  • And in terms of counties -- King County has the 4th highest incidence of deaths from asbestos related exposures in the US.

  • As far as small cities go, Bremerton has the highest incidence of deaths from asbestos related cancers of any small city in the U.S.

So we're talking about a national problem that has a painful local impact.  Studies show that asbestos exposure kills up to 10,000 Americans each year.  To anyone who says, "We don't need this bill," I would just pose one question: "How many more Americans have to die before our government finally does the right thing and bans asbestos?"  

More than 40 other industrialized countries have already banned asbestos.  I think American citizens deserve the same protection.

My bill does three things:

  • First, my bill bans asbestos. It prohibits the importation, manufacture, processing and distribution of products containing asbestos.  Unfortunately some 2,500 metric tons of asbestos was used in the US in 2005 and imports of products containing asbestos in cement pipe, tiles, brake gaskets and linings continue unabated today.

  • Second, my bill dramatically expands research and treatment.  It creates a $50 million, 10-center "Asbestos-Related Disease Research and Treatment Network."  It creates a new National Asbestos-Related Disease Registry.  It supports research at the Department of Defense and launches a study to determine the most promising areas for new research. 

  • Finally, my bill launches a public education campaign to better inform Americans of the dangers of asbestos in the workplace and in the environment.  It will also provide helpful steps all of us can take to better protect our families.

I'm pleased to say that we are making progress.  I've been working on this for 6 years, and for too long Congress has had the wrong priorities.  Now Congress is moving in a positive direction.  In March, I introduced my bill and chaired a hearing on it.  Last month, my bill got a full committee hearing before the Environment and Public Works Committee. I've been working with the stakeholders and Senators on both sides of the aisle to move the bill forward.

Today, I'm pleased to announce that my bill to ban asbestos will be marked up later this month.  This will be the first time my bill has reached this stage before the Environment and Public Works Committee, and it represents great progress.

I'm proud of how far we've come, but I'm not going to stop until we turn my bill into law.  Every day we waste is another day that someone else is exposed to asbestos, someone else gets a deadly diagnosis and someone else loses a family member to a painful disease.  I'm committed to stopping this cycle, and I thank you all for coming.