Congress again ponders bill to ban asbestos

A gavel and a justice scale

A U.S. lawmaker from Montana may be the key for the country to finally get on track toward banning asbestos, a flame-resistant mineral that causes the almost always fatal disease mesothelioma. Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican, is currently helping work on legislation to ban asbestos from the country.

The news is most noteworthy in that it would mark the first time such a bill gained sponsorship from a Republican. Alarming developments in Montana may have influenced Daines. Many cases of asbestos-related illnesses surfaced among residents near the northwest town of Libby due to a nearby vermiculite mine closed in 1990. The mine’s ore contained toxic asbestos dust that spread throughout the region.

Montana senator may hold the key

A spokeswoman from Daines’ office noted that the senator is working with Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, who has been a longtime sponsor for legislation geared toward banning asbestos. Daines, said the spokeswoman, remains “optimistic” regarding the introduction of a bill this year.

Merkley is a longtime advocate for an asbestos ban and sponsored bills in 2017 and 2019. In the past 20 years, Congressional efforts to ban asbestos have been many, but all unsuccessful due to industry pressure and lawmaker disagreements regarding approach.

Known as the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act (ARBAN), the bill prohibits the production, use and importation of asbestos. The ban would go into effect within a year of the bill’s passage. The timing for congressional action was right, coming after the Environmental Protection Agency’s move last year to restrict asbestos, but not ban it.

If passed, the legislation would allow the U.S. to join nearly 60 other countries that have banned asbestos.

The bill was named after Alan Reinstein, a California resident, who died in 2006 from mesothelioma due to work-related exposure to asbestos. He lived for three years after the mesothelioma diagnosis. Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that damages the lining of the lungs and stomach. Each year, physicians diagnose an estimated 3,000 U.S. residents with the disease, and nearly as many die.

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