AIHA: Bill Doesn't Address Real-Life Asbestos Concerns

The reintroduction of legislation banning asbestos sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., has prompted the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) to express concern that the bill only takes issue with new uses of asbestos and does not address concerns with the millions of pounds of asbestos already in use that continue to pose a health threat.

In a letter sent to Murray's attention, AIHA President Donald Hart pointed out that an outright ban wouldn't be taking issue with controlling exposure to asbestos already in use, an issue which some AIHA members confront every day. According to him, any application of asbestos in a product where the material becomes “friable” should no longer be continued.

“The real question is not whether legislation should be enacted to ban all uses of asbestos, but whether we can determine how to prevent new uses of asbestos from creating a hazard to individuals,” Hart said.

He also stated if a ban is the only way to control exposure to new uses of asbestos, then this is a decision that should be left to policymakers and regulators. Only the scientific community, through legislative efforts for research and study on the hazards of exposure to asbestos, would be able to determine if it is possible to prevent the release of asbestos fibers during new uses of asbestos, he said.

Numerous calls for comment on Hart's letter made to Murray's office for comment were not returned.

Bill Gaining Support

The bill – titled the Ban Asbestos in America Act of 2007 – would ban the importation, manufacture, processing and distribution of products containing asbestos into the United States. In addition, the measure, which is expected to be voted on later this year or in early 2008, calls for the creation of a $50 million asbestos-related disease research and treatment network and a public awareness campaign highlighting the dangers posed by asbestos-containing products. For more about the bill, read "Murray ReIntroduces Asbestos Bill.".

The bill initially had been introduced in 2001 and had little chance of passage until this year. On July 31, the bill passed the full Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) with unanimous, bipartisan support. The bill will is expected to head to the Senate floor.

“I'm thrilled that the entire committee has sent a clear and loud message of support, giving us strong momentum heading to the Senate floor," Murray said in July. "To the families who have been waiting for help, to the workers who need to be protected, I'd say we're almost there."

Despite his concerns, Hart offered support for the bill as he said he felt additional research on the health effects of asbestos and other materials was needed and has been ignored “for far too long.”

In addition, he said that AIHA supported efforts outlined in the bill to require increased educational and awareness campaigns to teach the pubic about the dangers of asbestos and the best way to prevent exposure to the toxin as well as available treatment options.

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