Senate urges Surgeon General to warn Americans about asbestos

The U.S. Senate passed a resolution last night urging Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy to warn the public about the risk of asbestos exposure. The deadly mineral continues to be imported to the U.S.

S. Res. 98 designates the first week of April as “National Asbestos Awareness Week.” The Senators note that the U.S. continues to use tons of asbestos every year despite its well-known danger. The resolution acknowledges:

  • Thousands of workers in the U.S. face significant asbestos exposure
  • Thousands of people in the U.S. die from asbestos-related diseases every year

The  U.S. Geological Survey estimates that 340 tons of asbestos were used last year by the chlor-alkali industry for the production of chlorine and sodium hydroxide.

S. Res. 98 is particularly timely as the EPA implements amendments to the Toxic Substances Control Act.  Earlier this month, the agency received scores of comments in response to the agency’s inquiry about worker groups and communities who are exposed to asbestos. Brent Kynoch with the Environmental Information Association noted in his comments to EPA, that known and potentially exposed individuals include firefighters, auto mechanics, building maintenance, school custodians and teachers, utility workers, and individuals working in chlor-alkali facilities. The Environmental Defense Fund reported the ease at which it purchased asbestos-containing brake shoes. Others reminded EPA on the necessity of examining the risk of exposure to asbestos from the time it is mined, processed, transported, to when it is used and disposed.

On learning of the passage of S. Res. 98, Linda Reinstein who co-founded the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), said

"We are enormously thankful to Senator Tester, Resolution co-sponsors, and the entire Senate for unanimously passing the resolution. ...Now, more than ever, it’s crucial to raise asbestos awareness to ensure the American public understands that this is not an issue of the past."

Her husband Alan, 66, died from pleural mesothelioma.

Reinstein points to new data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health which shows a continued rise in asbestos-related deaths. Particularly discouraging are the deaths from malignant mesothelioma among individuals aged 25-44.

Hassan Yussuff, the president of the Canadian Labour Congress will be speaking next week in Washington, DC at ADAO's annual conference. Yussuff was exposed to asbestos while working years ago as a mechanic. Along with other trade unionists, community groups, and public health allies, Yussuff worked with Canada's Trudeau government to secure a ban on asbestos. It will take effect in 2018.

The U.S. has quite a way to go to catch up with Canada and the 58 countries that have already banned asbestos. Our Senate is now simply urging the Surgeon General

"to warn and educate people about the public health issue of asbestos exposure, which may be hazardous to their health."

May be hazardous?  Like I said, we have a long way to go.

The Senate is calling on the Surgeon General to issue a warning about asbestos. How strong Dr. Murthy makes it---including urging EPA to ban it----is up to him.

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