Eight Senators Introduce Bill to Ban Asbestos

Illustration of legal cases for asbestos and mesothelioma

Late last week, a group of eight Democratic senators introduced a new bill to ban asbestos in the United States. The bill is called The Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act of 2017. This marks the sixth such bill to be introduced in Congress over the last 20 years.

“It’s outrageous that in the year 2017, asbestos is still allowed in the United States,” said Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), one of the bill’s co-sponsors. Merkley went on to call asbestos a “public health threat” and called for the U.S. to catch up with the rest of the developed world in completely banning this dangerous carcinogen.

Another of the bill’s co-sponsors is Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana, who focused his words on the problems that have been seen in cities like Libby, where asbestos has taken hundreds of lives. The EPA is still cleaning up asbestos-contaminated soil and materials from the vermiculite mines in Libby and surrounding areas.

Other sponsors of the bill include Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

Perhaps more notable than the bill’s sponsors are those who have not chosen to sponsor it. In particular, the absence of Senator Steve Daines (R-MT), a colleague of Senator Tester who has also spoken out about the dangers of asbestos exposure to the people in his state and across the country.

Earlier this year, Senator Daines had joined Senator Tester in designating April 1 – 8 as National Asbestos Awareness Week. At that time Senator Daines had said, “We can never be too educated about asbestos and its terrible effects to guard against them and ensure the folks in Libby know they have our support.”

However, despite his words last spring, Senator Daines has declined to support this most recent bill to ban asbestos, at least at the present time. Instead, the Montana Senator expressed support for ongoing regulatory review of imports, without necessarily implementing a full ban.

The support of Senators like Daines will be necessary if the bill is to pass in the Senate and eventually make its way to President Trump. Even if it gets to Trump, it is likely he will veto the bill, given the president’s past statements about asbestos.

If that happens, then the bill’s sponsors will need to convince Senator Daines and other Republicans who are on the fence to support their efforts for a complete ban. Whether they can persuade enough Republicans to assemble a supermajority that would override a presidential veto remains to be seen.

Nonetheless, for now the bill has been introduced. Since the EPA is backing away from its chemical reviews required by the Lautenberg Act signed into law last year by President Obama, other efforts like these to ban the substance will need to keep moving forward.