Summary of Hearings on Asbestos Legislation
- June 12, 2007: Senate Environment and
Public Works Committee hearing on "Examining the Health
Effects of Asbestos and Methods of Mitigating such Impacts"
Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on "Examining
the Health Effects of Asbestos and Methods of Mitigating such
June 12, 2007
Opening Remarks: U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA)
David Weissman, M.D. Director National Institute for Occupational
Safety and Health
Captain Aubrey Keith Miller, M.D., M.P.H. Senior Medical Officer &
US Environmental Protection Agency, Region VIII
Melanie Marty, PhD Chief, Air Toxicology and Epidemiology Branch California
Environmental Protection Agency
Barry Castleman, ScD Environmental Consultant
Ann Wylie, Ph.D. University of Maryland, Department of Geology
David Weill, M.D. Associate Professor Stanford University
Richard A. Lemen, Ph.D., M.S.P.H. Assistant Surgeon General, (ret.)
Linda Reinstein, Executive Director and Cofounder Asbestos Disease
On June 12, 2007 the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
met to discuss the health effects of asbestos exposure and proper
mitigation measures to limit exposure. Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
expressed deep concern about this issue, recognizing that millions
of Americans are at risk today. From 1992-2002 over 2,000 people died
each year from asbestosis and mesothelioma according to a study done
by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
This number does not reflect all of the asbestos exposure related
deaths, which are believed to be much higher. Boxer noted that despite
the number deaths the U.S. continues to import over 2,530 metric tons
of asbestos and over 90,000 metric tons of products containing asbestos
such as cement, automotive friction products, and roofing products.
Boxer expressed strong support of S. 742 the Ban Asbestos in America
Act of 2007 which was introduced by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA).
S. 742 was introduced on March 1, 2007. In effect this bill would
amend the Toxic Substances and Control Act of 1976 by "prohibiting
persons from importing, manufacturing, processing, or distributing
in commerce asbestos-containing products." The bill also calls
for NIOSH to conduct a study on the health effects of other asbestiform
fibers and methods for analyzing, measuring and labeling practices
for asbestos. This is Murray's third attempt to pass this legislation
in six years. In this attempt Murray is working with Senator Johnny
Isakson (R-GA) to address Republican concerns over the ban. Previous
efforts were made to ban asbestos in 1989 when U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, William Reilly, attempted to
add regulations to the Toxic Substances and Control Act that would
phase out the use of asbestos in all products by 1997. However, in
1991 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit overturned some
of the regulations. As a result no new products containing asbestos
were imported however, any products containing asbestos that were
already being imported could continue to be imported.
Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) agreed that there is no debate
over the deadly health problems caused by exposure to amphibole and
chrysotile form asbestos. However, Inhofe believed that more debate
is needed over non-asbestiform minerals. While some minerals have
the same chemical make up as asbestos they have "entirely different
physical structures." Inhofe quoted the U.S. Geological Survey
(USGS) which stated "
the counting criteria developed for
analysis of asbestos in the workplace or in commercial products may
not be appropriate for direct application to what is currently referred
to as naturally occurring asbestos." Inhofe presented a chart
comparing dangerous mineral asbestos and non-asbestiform minerals
and noted the obvious difference that the non-asbestiform mineral
was not a slender fiber but a bulky cleavage fragment. According to
research these particles do not pose the same health effects as asbestos
but yet they are still regulated by the EPA, Occupational Health and
Safety Administration (OSHA), and the Mining Safety and Health Administration.
Inhofe felt that because these minerals do not pose the same health
risks they should be treated differently. Inhofe noted that previous
legislation recognized the mineralogical and medical differences and
hoped that future legislation would do the same.
Dr. Weissman, Dr. Miller, and Dr. Marty conveyed to the committee
the different health risks associated with exposure to asbestos. The
asbestos fibers penetrate deep inside the lungs where they cannot
be expelled nor absorbed. Over a 10-50 year time span the fibers damage
the surrounding tissue and cause cancer or other disease. Some fibers
are small enough to get into the chest lining and get spread through
out the body. Children are especially vulnerable to the risks of exposure
because they breathe more per body weight thus increasing the ingestion
level of asbestos. Once symptoms begin they rarely regress. Health
problems can only be treated on a symptoms basis but there is no cure
for the underlying problem.
While each concluded that amphibole asbestos is the most lethal form
of asbestos all three witnesses stated that all forms of asbestos
can have devastating health consequences. Exposure can come from a
number of sources other than just the work place. According to Marty,
in 1986 California identified asbestos as a toxic air contaminate
in urban air due to its use in building materials and brake linings.
Miller added that asbestos has also been labeled a carcinogen by the
EPA. As of now there is no known safe level of exposure to asbestos,
even small amounts of exposure could have lasting health consequences.
Each witness concluded that further research in asbestos is needed
and the solution to saving lives from the health effects of asbestos
is reducing exposure.
Except for Dr. Wylie and Dr. Weill the second panel also came to
the same conclusion that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos.
Wylie and Weill disagreed on the basis that an acceptable level of
risk must be determined. Both also stated that exposure to cleavage
fragments pose no threat because there have been no cases reported
of disease related to cleavage fragment exposure. However Dr. Lemen
was in disagreement. Dr. Lemen stated that only until "there
exists irrefutable data" on both human and animal test subjects
that demonstrate appropriate safe levels of exposure, any fibrous
like mineral must be banned. Any asbestos definition should include
all respirable asbestiform minerals including cleavage fragments.
Linda Reinstein provided the committee with an emotional take on
the asbestos issue. Reinstein is a mesothelioma widow, her husband
Alan Reinstein died after a three year battle with mesothelioma. Several
audience members were moved to tears as she described her heartbreaking
ordeal. Reinstein urged that asbestos be banned now and requested
funding for treatment of asbestos related illnesses.
The U.S. does not import any of the deadly amphibole asbestos but
products containing chrysotile asbestos are still imported. While
the risks are less with chrysotile asbestos than that of amphibole
asbestos, Boxer stated that no risk is acceptable and she would move
as quickly as possible to get this ban in place. She concluded "it
would be a proud day for the Senate if we could do something that,
frankly, all Americans thought we already did."
A link to witness testimony can be viewed here.
Sources: Environment and Energy Daily; Hearing testimony.
Contributed by David McCormick, AGI/AIPG 2007 Summer Intern
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Last updated on July 26, 2007