U.S. Senate Committee on
Environment and Public Works
Opening Statement of U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer
Chairman, Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
EPW Hearing on the Health Effects of Asbestos
Remarks as prepared for delivery
June 12, 2007
This is an important hearing for millions of Americans who have been exposed to asbestos, for their families, and especially for the thousands of American families who have lost family members to asbestos-related lung disease and cancer. Millions of Americans are still being exposed to asbestos today, and if we don’t act, countless more people will get sick and die in the future.
I want to thank Senator Murray, who has taken a leadership role on this issue. Her legislation, the Ban Asbestos in America Act of 2007, would place the United States clearly on the side of protecting the health of the public from this dangerous substance. It would ban nearly all uses of asbestos in products. I am proud to be an original cosponsor of this bill.
We must take every reasonable step we can to end exposures to asbestos. When we see our fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers dying from asbestos, there is no justification for allowing the number of dead to continue to mount. We know enough about asbestos to act today.
Asbestos fibers can be 1,200 times smaller than a human hair. These microscopic fibers can stay invisible and suspended in the air for days. People, including children, can breathe these fibers deep into their lungs, where they cause their damage.
We see the result of this in communities across our country. This nationwide actually – worldwide -- tragedy has hit my State of California especially hard.
According to National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, between 1993 and 2002, more than a 1,000 people died from asbestosis caused by exposures at their work. From 1999 to 2002, NIOSH reports, 1,001 people died from mesothelioma, a rare cancer and deadly cancer generally caused by asbestos. These figures do not include the deaths from lung cancer and other diseases that asbestos can cause, or the deaths that the government tracking system may have missed.
The deaths of hard-working people exposed to asbestos at their work only tell part of the story. Workers can take asbestos into their homes on their clothes. After a hard day at work, they go home and hug their children or sit with their families at the dinner table. Their spouses may handle their asbestos-laden clothes. Nobody can see the fibers, but they can still kill.
Margarito Martinez lived in Baldwin Park, California with his wife of 39 years, Rebecca, pictured here on the right. Margarito worked as a plasterer and Rebecca would clean his asbestos-covered clothes when he came home, breathing in the dust as she shook them out and did the laundry. They say they were never warned about the dangers of asbestos. Rebecca was diagnosed with the deadly cancer mesothelioma in 2002. She died four months later,
Georgina Bryson lived in Riverside, California when she died of mesothelioma. From 1962 until 1980, Georgina lived downwind from two cement companies that used asbestos to manufacture their products. Georgina was also exposed to asbestos when she lived with her father, who worked with gaskets that contained asbestos. Georgina was only 40 years old when she died from mesothelioma.
Here is a picture of a lung damaged by mesothelioma, just one of a number of devastating diseases caused by asbestos.
Despite all of this death, we continue to allow the importation and use of asbestos and products that contain asbestos. World production of asbestos actually increased in 2005, from 2.36 million metric tons in 2004, to 2.40 million metric tons in 2005.
In the United States, we imported 2,530 metric tons of asbestos, and we imported more than 90,000 metric tons of products that may contain asbestos. Products like cement and gaskets, as well as brakes and clutch parts for automobiles. Even the Environmental Protection Agency acknowledges that people who work on cars should be careful because of the danger of breathing in asbestos.
The good news is that there are safer alternatives to asbestos that are available today. Because of this and the continuing risks to people’s health, many nations have adopted asbestos bans.
Due to the on-going dangers of using asbestos, the World Health Organization reports that more than 40 countries have banned or are phasing out the use of asbestos.
I believe the United States should squarely address the asbestos problem. That is why I am a strong supporter of Senator Murray’s bill, S. 742, the Ban Asbestos in America Act of 2007, which would accomplish this goal here in the United States.
In scores of nations, products that used to be made with asbestos now are being made without it. I have great faith in American ingenuity, and strongly believe that these products can be made here from safer materials as well.
This hearing’s focus is clear. It is on people, and the terrible price they continue to pay because asbestos is being used, despite the availability of safer alternatives.
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