by Andrew Schneider, cross-posted from Cold Truth

At last, the world’s oldest public health organization has joined the funeral dirge-paced parade to ban asbestos in the U.S.  The 50,000-member American Public Health Association adopted a resolution at its annual meeting this week calling on Congress to pass legislation banning the manufacture, sale, export, or import of asbestos-containing products including products in which asbestos is a contaminant.  Asbestos, a known carcinogen, annually claims the lives of more than 10,000 Americans.

“With this new policy, APHA is joining the World Federation of Public Health Associations and other international organizations calling for a global ban on asbestos mining, and manufacturing, and the dangerous practice of exporting asbestos containing products,” said Dr. Celeste Monforton, chair of the organization’s Occupational Health and Safety section.  “As the World Health Organization noted in 2006, the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos related diseases is to stop using all types of asbestos.”

Asbestos was banned in the U.S. briefly in 1989, after the Environmental Protection Agency conducted a ten-year study, spent millions in research and accumulated 100,000 pages of justification. The agency announced that it would phase out and ban virtually all products containing asbestos.  But the fledgling ban lasted less than two years.  The well-funded Canadian Asbestos industry challenged the ban.  The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court acknowledged that “asbestos is a potential carcinogen at all levels of exposure,” but nevertheless threw out the life-saving legislation over technical issues. 

In 2007, after six years of effort, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray muscled a new asbestos ban into existence.  The original language of the precisely crafted legislation would have addressed almost all commercial sources of asbestos. However, between Murray signing off on a solid and important bill and the time it was passed unanimously by the Senate, the asbestos industry, primary the automotive and sand and gravel gangs, had Republicans gut it to almost total uselessness. 

Almost 50 industrialized nations have banned the lethal fibers. The U.S. and Canada are the most notable exceptions.  Canada still mines and exports asbestos and too many U.S. lawmakers buckle to the power of industry lobbyists.    Yet like Murray, many continue the fight. 

“APHA set a precedent with strong language aimed at preventing asbestos exposure to eliminate deadly diseases.  We can’t let history repeat itself – it is time to ban asbestos and fund educational and research programs,” says Linda Reinstein, Executive Director of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO).  “APHA renews our optimism that a federal asbestos ban is eminent,” added the head of the asbestos victim’s group.

See ADAO/APHA OHS Section news release here.