Senate Panel Passes Asbestos Ban
Washington, August 2 — Eighteen years after the Environmental Protection Agency unsuccessfully attempted to ban asbestos, one of the world’s most deadly substances, a Senate panel voted this week to ban the use of the microscopic fibers.
The U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted Tuesday to forward the legislation to the full Senate, after citing Environmental Working Group research that shows about 10,000 Americans die each year of mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases (download PDF excerpt).
A bipartisan companion bill is expected to be introduced today in the House of Representatives by Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN).
The bill correctly highlights the mistaken conventional wisdom: that asbestos has already been banned. While asbestos is regulated, it continues to be used in scores of products despite the fact that no amount of asbestos is safe to breathe.
In 1989, after conducting a ten-year study, spending $10 million, and accumulating a 100,000 page administrative record, EPA announced that it would act under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to phase out and ban virtually all products containing asbestos.
In spite of the wealth of data, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the ban, finding that EPA failed to present "substantial evidence" to justify the ban under TSCA. The first Bush Administration declined to appeal the case.
The Fifth Circuit's decision has been called a "tragedy for the EPA," because the court imposed seemingly impossible analytical requirements on the agency. The holding indeed poses a serious question: If EPA can't ban a known carcinogen, at which no level of exposure is safe, how can EPA regulate any toxic substance?
The Ban Asbestos in America Act of 2007 would accomplish what the Fifth Circuit prevented EPA from doing 18 years ago.
EWG remains concerned about portions of the bill that allow exemptions for some users of asbestos, but there is encouraging language in the legislation that exemptions not specifically identified in the bill are “not to exceed a total of three years.”
By banning the importation, manufacture, processing, and distribution of asbestos, Congress will limit exposure to one of the world’s most toxic substances and protect public health today and for years to come.