Asbestos has caused thousands of cases of mesothelioma and other deadly diseases. Still, the United States has not banned the substance even though dozens of other nations have. Banning asbestos has come under scrutiny and debate over the past few decades to no avail. However, lawmakers recently introduced a bill that proposes to ban asbestos imports to the U.S. – permanently.
What to know about the bill
Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Oregon) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) introduced the bill in March. It is called the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act of 2023 (ARBAN) after Alan Reinstein, a man who succumbed to mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure. ARBAN would prohibit the import of all six varieties of asbestos fibers. Companies would have up to two years to transition from the use of asbestos to other nontoxic options.
The bill is not without its opponents. Lobbies for the chemical industry claim that asbestos is necessary for the production of numerous substances. And, contrary to extensive scientific evidence, they claim that asbestos is safe when handled properly.
The dangerous threat of asbestos
Asbestos is a carcinogen made of tiny fibers. The construction industry often used asbestos to strengthen various materials such as insulation. In the 1980s, scientists made the connection between asbestos and mesothelioma, an often-fatal disease that affects the lungs. Since then, Congress has regulated the substance, but not outright banned it. Even in miniscule amounts, exposure to asbestos fibers can permanently damage the lungs.
Is an asbestos-free future near?
In spite of the bill’s detractors, its sponsors remain optimistic. Public support for ARBAN could mean the difference between its success and its failure. No fewer than five representatives for the House introduced a similar bill in 2022 only to see it stall in the Senate. The Environmental Protection Agency is also hard at work to ban chrysotile asbestos, the most commonly used type of fiber. If members of Congress realize how significant ARBAN is to workers, mesothelioma victims and their family members, it might finally pass the bill so gravely needed to prevent future asbestos exposure.