Press Release: NEARLY FORTY LEADING SCIENTISTS CALL FOR ACTION ON ASBESTOS LEGISLATION February 4, 2020: Letter to Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Hoyer
January 16, 2020: Joint Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act (ARBAN) Support Letter 

Posted on February 4, 2020

Today, on World Cancer Day, the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) is proud to release a letter signed by nearly forty leading scientists in support of the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act (ARBAN) H.R. 1603. 

The letter to Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Hoyer calls for immediate passage of the H.R. 1603. The scientists, who have devoted their careers as researchers, teachers and government officials to combat the public health threat of asbestos, underscore that “the public will not be protected unless we ban all asbestos mining, importation and use.” Terming ARBAN “a strong bill to protect public health,” they emphasize that ARBAN, “provides Congress with a unique opportunity to eliminate asbestos from US commerce.”

Today’s letter builds on the January 16 ARBAN joint support letter to Speaker Pelosi from AFL-CIO, APHA, and many others reiterating that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos and calls on the United States to join the nearly 70 countries that have banned this dangerous substance. 

The letter comes at a critical moment in the long fight to rid our society of asbestos. It has been 30 years since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tried and failed to ban asbestos in the United States. Over 100 tons of raw asbestos were imported into the country in 2019 for use at 15 plants in the chlor-alkali industry. Russia is now the only country to export asbestos to the U.S. Additionally, asbestos-containing products for a variety of uses still enter the US and the EPA is unable to quantify these imports or identify where and how they are used.  

There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos, which causes cancers including mesothelioma, lung cancer, ovarian cancer, and more. Despite the decline in use, recent research shows that nearly 40,000 Americans die each year from asbestos-caused diseases.  

ARBAN would ban all importation and use of asbestos and asbestos-containing products within one year of enactment, with a special transition process for the chlor-alkali industry, which would have 5 years to stop asbestos imports and 5 more years to convert to asbestos-free technology. 

Addressing a long-neglected pathway of asbestos exposure with important public health impacts, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) would conduct a comprehensive study of risks presented by “legacy” asbestos found in millions of buildings nationwide. This information will be used to recommend new, stronger policies to protect workers and the public from unsafe exposures. 

ARBAN would also create a Right-to-Know program that requires all those who have imported and used asbestos and asbestos-containing products over the last three years to report to EPA and identify how much asbestos is involved, where and how it is used and how many people are exposed. 

ARBAN was approved by the Energy and Commerce Committee by a vote of 47-1 on November 19, 2019. However, it has not yet gone to the House floor for passage because some have taken issue with the bill’s asbestos definition. The scientists’ letter addresses this concern head-on,  emphasizing that, “the current definition will achieve the public health benefits of the bill” and these benefits should not be delayed while experts work “to improve the definition of asbestos in order to inform future legislative and regulatory actions.” 

The definition cited in ARBAN comes from Title II of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), that was enacted in 1986 as part of the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA). It is reflected in a number of state and federal regulations. It is also important to note that the TSCA term “chemical substance” does not include cosmetics, which are exclusively regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, and therefore are not under the purview of H.R. 1603.

As leading scientists have recognized, there may be a need to eventually update the asbestos definition in light of evolving scientific understanding of the mineral composition and health effects of asbestos and asbestos-like fibers. However, there is currently no consensus on a better definition. 

ADAO recognizes there are limits to what can be accomplished in this bill. We also believe a perfect bill should not be the enemy of a very good one.  To insist on a different definition of asbestos in H.R.1603 at this time would effectively block its enactment and make it impossible to realize the important public health benefits of a comprehensive nation-wide asbestos ban. 

We are also sensitive to the concern raised by Rep. DeGette during the November 19 markup that ARBAN might have the inadvertent result of “barring impending lawsuits around talc.” However, as Chairman Pallone said at the markup, “This bill is not intended to have any impact on (litigation ongoing to asbestos in cosmetic talc).” 

To the extent further clarity is needed, a “savings clause” might be added to assure that the ARBAN asbestos definition cannot be used in any litigation.   

The issue of asbestos in talc-based baby powder and other cosmetics is a serious one. We firmly believe people who have suffered harm from the use of these products deserve their day in court. However, TSCA and ARBAN do not cover cosmetics. There is separate pending legislation to strengthen FDA’s authority to protect consumers from toxic substances present in these products, including asbestos.

The time is now for the House to vote and pass H.R. 1603 to ban asbestos. With bipartisan concern and support, we are extremely confident Members on both sides of the aisle can, and must, get behind this life-saving bill.

Linda Reinstein
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