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American Public Health Association Calls for Asbestos Ban

The American Public Health Association (APHA), the largest organization of public health workers and officials in the world, recently passed a resolution asking the US Congress to pass new laws banning asbestos and asbestos-containing materials. The proposed ban would include any importing or exporting of asbestos-laced substances, as well as the mining, manufacturing and sale of raw asbestos.

The basis for the group’s resolution comes from a recent study that states that more than ten thousand Americans die from asbestos-related causes each year, creating a monumental strain on the public health care system. Long-term exposure to asbestos is known to cause a form of cancer known as malignant mesothelioma, which affects the fluid lining around the lungs, as well as a number of other forms of cancer and respiratory disorders.

When a patient is exposed to asbestos, the fibers from the material insinuate themselves into the lungs and surrounding tissue, affecting the cells and creating dangerous malignant tumors. In most cases, the patient’s life expectancy after diagnosis is less than eighteen months.

Dr. Celeste Monforton, chairperson of the group’s Occupational Health and Safety division, said that the resolution is part of a new policy that puts the US-based association in line with the World Federation of Public Health Associations, as well as other similar organizations across the globe, which are calling for a worldwide ban on the extraction, development and distribution of products containing the carcinogenic material. She also cited a report by the UN’s World Health Organization from 2006, which concluded that the best way to eradicate the diseases related to asbestos exposure is to ban the use of all types of the fibrous mineral.

In 1979, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began a study into the affects of workplace asbestos exposure. Ten years later, the agency emerged with a report that accumulated over one hundred thousand pages of data. From that data, the agency called for a ban on the production of new asbestos products and the disuse of existing asbestos-containing materials.

However, in 1991, the Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the EPA’s ruling due to some issues with the legal language involved with the ban. Although the court recognized the danger that asbestos provided to the country’s workers, the panel of judges lifted the ban on asbestos-containing materials. Currently, the US and Canada are two of the few industrialized nations that do not have active asbestos bans.

During a session of Congress in 2007, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced new legislation calling for a ban on asbestos. Opposition in the Senate, driven by powerful and lucrative asbestos industry lobbyists according to some political observers, took most of the stiffer penalties out of the bill. While the bill passed the Senate, critics called it “toothless”. The bill never got to the floor in the House.