When I read of the Ban Asbestos in America Act of 2007, passed by the Senate yesterday, it was for me, in Yogi Berra’s famous phrase, déjà vu all over again. The bill charges the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to study asbestos and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to prohibit the use and sale of products that contain asbestos.
Good grief. NIOSH and EPA and also OSHA and the CPSC have been all over the asbestos case for 35 years beginning with hearings at the Labor Department in 1972. Here are the facts. Asbestos is a useful mineral common throughout the world. Everyone has been exposed to it. There are different kinds of asbestos. The most common type, chrysotile, does not appear to be particularly hazardous to people. The majority of asbestos-related illnesses stems from excessive exposures that occurred during ship construction in World War II. After many years of intensive study, the EPA concluded that intact asbestos in buildings should be left alone.
Asbestos has marvelous fire-retardant properties that save lives. The politically driven mania to ban asbestos creates serious hazards where none need exist. The crash of the shuttle Challenger, for example, was caused by the failure of critical O-rings which, because of a CPSC ban on asbestos products, were not sealed with the standard putty containing asbestos. Many useful products are safe for humans because they contain asbestos.
This bill, if it becomes law, will create hazards where none exist.
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