Last week, the United States celebrated National Asbestos Awareness Week (NAAW): an important annual campaign aiming to address prevention of asbestos-related disease. Led by the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), the campaign also served to remind us of asbestos exposure, which remains a very real threat to public health.
Over 12 consecutive years, ADAO has secured 12 resolutions with the U.S. Senate officially declaring the first week of April as National Asbestos Awareness Week. The organization has also garnered 5 Surgeon General Warning Statements to warn and educate the public about asbestos.
2017 was no different. Once again, a resolution passed to dedicate this time to asbestos awareness thanks to the efforts of Linda Reinstein, ADAO’s co-founder and president. “Each year, an estimated 15,000 Americans die from preventable asbestos-caused diseases,” said Reinstein. “Undoubtedly, the resolution's momentum and the forthcoming U.S. surgeon general’s asbestos warning will raise awareness and save lives.”
A Message to Mesothelioma Victims
Senate Resolution 98 was submitted by Jon Tester (D-MT) and supported in part by Steve Daines (R-MT). The 2 Montana senators urged the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, to caution the public that asbestos is still very much at large.
Montana, as any asbestos activist would know, is home to some of the worst environmental disasters in the history of the U.S. The infamous W. R. Grace and Company mine in Libby, which once produced asbestos-contaminated vermiculite, killed hundreds of mine workers and residents over almost an entire century.
This devastation – necessitating the largest asbestos cleanup project in U.S. history – put Montana firmly in the spotlight for exposure to the deadly mineral.
“Too many folks have suffered and lost their lives to asbestos poisoning, and it’s our responsibility to make sure Montanans and all Americans understand its risks,” said Tester. “Asbestos has led to tragedy in communities like Libby and Troy. By making education and awareness a priority, we can protect our families from these life-threatening diseases.”
A Lingering Public Health Crisis
When it comes to asbestos, which was once widespread in construction and product manufacturing, lethal diseases result from exposure, such as mesothelioma, an incurable cancer. Over 400 residents of Montana have died from asbestos exposure, according to Tester. On a national level, data paints an even more disturbing picture.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released up-to-date numbers on asbestos-related deaths, which are increasing among older Americans. Between 1999 and 2015, the number increased by 5 percent to 2,597 per year.
Given the efforts of the federal Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to reduce exposure in recent years – through initiatives such as the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) – this increase doesn’t seem to make sense. The public is urged to remember, though, that it is perpetuated by continued asbestos use.
NAAW Just One Small Piece of a Bigger Puzzle
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued several regulations concerning asbestos since 1973, eventually leading to the ban of “most” asbestos-containing products. But not all. According to Joe Frasca, Senior Vice President of Marketing at EMSL Analytical, Inc. (which provides asbestos testing kits), the United States still consumes tons of asbestos-containing products each year.
“Even though many people think the use of asbestos has been banned in the U.S., that is not the case as there are still products that legally contain it,” he said. “Even asbestos-containing materials from decades ago can still be found on the inside and outside of countless residential, commercial, and institutional buildings across the country.”
Surprising though it is, it’s encouraging to see the rare GOP senator standing up for the importance of asbestos awareness. This is a month after Sen. Steve Daines (D-MT) called for Congress to protect Libby residents from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal, which currently entitles asbestos-related disease victims to Medicare.
However, many other Republicans – especially President Donald Trump – do not share Daines’s views on asbestos dangers. Rather, they are in support of asbestos use, promote toxic bills that sustain its livelihood, have little regard for safety and environmental regulations, and even work to protect industries associated with asbestos. Without the backing of important federal programs, improvements in public health remain uncertain. This is why awareness is absolutely vital.
“By continuing to raise awareness about the deadly effects of asbestos, we can prevent future widespread issues in communities across the country,” said Daines. “We can never be too educated about asbestos and its terrible effects.”