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Asbestos Exposure Lawyer

A Ban By Any Other Name Is No Ban At All

Mesothelioma can be caused by exceedingly small levels of asbestos exposure. With all the expertise, the technology, and the skill possessed by medical science, there has never been identified any exposure to asbestos, however small, that does not increase one’s risk of developing cancer. If there is no safe exposure level, then only no exposure is safe.

Tragically, Congress is considering a bill that pays greater attention to political expediency than it does public health. S. 742, the “Ban Asbestos in America Act of 2007” is no ban at all. While masquerading as an asbestos prohibition, S. 742 defines an asbestos containing product as a product that contains greater than 1% asbestos. When it comes to asbestos 1% is a substantial margin of error.

Just as a “Clear Skies Act” should provide for cleaner air, not for easier ways to pollute, and A “Healthy Forest Initiative” should promote healthy forests, not deforestation, a “Ban Asbestos Bill”, should, well, ban asbestos. Have we become so jaded and beaten down with Orwellian/Washingtonian doublespeak that we will call a product with substantial asbestos content by any other name than? The 1% rule was originally a capitulation to the WR Grace company, one of the asbestos epidemic’s most prolific carriers and today an indicted felon for their conduct with respect to asbestos. Do we really want to embrace a political compromise made with an admitted killer decades ago?

Asbestos by any other name, is still asbestos. 1% asbestos is still 100% deadly. I doubt the victim cares that he was killed by a 1% product or a 100% asbestos product. The 1% definition does not even address the wholesale exemptions for uses of pure, uncut, 100% asbestos fibers for specific uses – uses invariably represented by the interests of equally specific, if not special, interest groups. Are workers subjected to asbestos for these special interest exemptions the acceptable risk, the expendable group, and the not reasonably worthy of protection that are so often the casualty of political compromise?

Who among us wants to tell the victims that their sacrifice is acceptable? That while they may be special to their families, “special” in terms of political interests they are not.

On February 28th, the Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, held the most recent hearings on the House version of the asbestos “ban.” The House bill is not perfect, but it does understand that the difference between a ban, and an almost-but-not-quite ban promoted by S. 742, is really no ban at all. The House version gets that 1% asbestos is still 100% deadly.

The House also understands that in addition to its deceptive name, S. 742 does not attempt to protect victim’s rights to sue by including express language ensuring that the courthouse doors will not be closed to future asbestos victims. The House version preempts the attack on victim’s rights by ensuring that the courthouse doors will remain open.

The asbestos industry was represented by witnesses who swore that asbestos is practically a nuisance dust and that the official government risk estimates are exaggerated. Asbestos victims, indeed all of us interested in public health, found a loyal and committed advocate in Dr. Richard Lemen (R.Adm. U.S.P.H.S., Ret). Dr. Lemen, a veteran of the asbestos wars for over 4 decades, advised the committee that the asbestos industry once again aims to mislead and manipulate, rather than inform and illuminate. Dr. Lemen countered with testimony proving that the true estimates of asbestos deaths are underestimated and that a ban is long overdue. Admiral Lemen reminded the committee that America lags behind the rest of the industrialized world, over 40 countries now, that have resisted the special interest asbestos lobbies and have passed their own bans. Our industrial counterparts have passed real bans that recognize asbestos for the killer it truly is, not a watered down 1% exception ban that would call a certain number of asbestos deaths “acceptable” or “reasonable” within profit-driven risk guidelines.

Although no legislation is perfect, sometimes good enough isn’t. While supporters of S. 742 trumpet $10 million in annual research funding, how many victims would have easily rejected $10 million if they could have avoided mesothelioma? The research money is even less impressive when you learn that it is spread out over 10 facilities across the country in separate $1 million grants. How much will be lost to duplication of simple infrastructure and administrative costs for each of 10 centers of research around the country? $1 million dollar grants? Really? Are we that easily bought off? Have our elected representatives settled for what some think they are anyway and are now just negotiating their price? With over $1 Trillion going to fight various wars around the world on our behalf, it is amazing that mesothelioma, a disease that disproportionately affects our veterans, is still treated as an orphan disease. These troops deserve real support, not the kind relegated to a ribbon or bumper sticker, but support that matters. They were there when we needed them, they were there 100%, we cannot let them down, not even if only 1%.

Senator Patty Murray and others who have worked so tirelessly to end the asbestos disease epidemic deserve thanks and praise to be sure, but their efforts cannot be allowed to be watered down for the sake of political expediency. The “Ban Asbestos in America Act of 2007” cannot be allowed to be continued; use of asbestos by any other name…

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