Imagine the outcry if the United States deliberately imported 4.5 million pounds of a deadly poison and put it in the homes, workplaces, and everyday products of innocent men, women, and children. As ridiculous as that seems, that is exactly what is happening.
Almost four decades since the Environmental Protection Agency listed asbestos as a hazardous air pollutant, this mineral -- known to be toxic and imported from countries like Canada continues to kill approximately 10,000 Americans each year. That's more than those who die from skin cancer and nearly the number who are slain in assaults with firearms, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non profit research and advocacy group.
And the pace is only picking up. Asbestos-caused diseases, including lung cancer, pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma, gastrointestinal cancer, and asbestosis, are on the rise, according to the EWG. That's because exposure to asbestos peaked in the late 1970s, and asbestos-related cancers have a 10- to 50 year latency period.
Despite warnings in 2006 from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labor Organization when both agreed that "all forms of asbestos are classified as human carcinogens, no threshold for 'safe' exposure exists, and the elimination of asbestos use is essential to stop the global epidemic of asbestos-related diseases," the United States has not banned asbestos.
Asbestos use is responsible for the greatest occupational health crisis in world history. According to WHO, preventing asbestos exposure is the only way to prevent asbestos-related disease. Forty other nations have already banned asbestos, including the European Union.
"It is unconscionable that so many innocent victims . . . have died because they were exposed to (asbestos)," said Patty Murray (D-WA), as she fought in 2007 to ban asbestos. "But it's even more disturbing that our government continues to allow asbestos to be imported into the country and used in everyday products today .... The time for Congress to ban asbestos is long overdue. Until we take the steps to ban this deadly substance, we will continue to put innocent lives at risk."
The first week of April marked National Asbestos Awareness Week. Following this week of recognition, we urge President Obama and Congress to provide hope and change, to pick up what past champions of the cause started, and to finally end what should have ended decades ago.
There have been attempts to ban asbestos, but each has failed. In 1989, for example, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized regulations to ban asbestos under the Toxic Substances Control Act. But in 1991 the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (New Orleans) overturned the EPA's regulation. The George H.W. Bush Administration chose not to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. A proposed bill to ban asbestos, authored by Sen. Murray, passed the Senate in 2007 but failed to make it to the House of Representatives.
Asbestos has been used in different ways in a variety of occupations and in a variety of products found in shipyards, power plants, chemical plants, factories, steel mills, building construction, and the telephone, automobile, textile, and railroad industries. It is used because of its innate resistance to heat and fire and its insulation properties. But inhaling the invisible, short, sharp fibers leads to irreversible respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases.
In 1955 Dr. Richard Doll published a study linking asbestos to lung cancer. In 1976 the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified asbestos as a human carcinogen. And three years ago WHO stated that there is no safe level of exposure.
Still, just as the country spends billions on asbestos cleanup, our nation continues to import and consume almost 2,000 metric tons of asbestos for use in everyday products. It's an obvious and deadly contradiction. We need to encourage our nation's leaders and lawmakers to stop U.S. import and use of a known cancer-causing product.
What once was considered a miracle mineral for decades has been known to produce deadly dust. It can no longer be swept under the rug. Past deaths were preventable. Importantly, future deaths are preventable. We need to do more than clean up the mess. The poisoning must stop.
Visit www.banasbestos.us and write your congressman today.
SimmonsCooper LLC, East Alton, Ill.