Nearly three years ago, a group of U.S. senators, including Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, (D-CA) co-sponsored legislation banning the importation and use of asbestos in the United States.
The bill would save thousands of lives each year, Feinstein said.
“It’s outrageous that in the year 2017, asbestos is still allowed in the United States,” Merkley said in a statement. “It’s time for us to catch up to the rest of the developed world and ban this dangerous public health threat once and for all.”
The bill, called the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act of 2017, was introduced in the House under the same name. It was named for Reinstein, who died at age 66 of mesothelioma, a type of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.
Clearing a key House committee
It passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee in November by a vote of 47-1, Linda Reinstein, widow of Alan Reinstein, told mesowatch.
“That is a very powerful committee, which means it has strong bipartisan support and it’s ready for the House floor,” she said.
More than 30 organizations and 18 state attorneys general support the bill, Reinstein said.
“We have the stakeholders and the momentum for the bill,” she said. “We just need to have the calendar opportunity to move the bill.”
Challenging times in Washington
The last six months have been tumultuous in Washington during the COVID-19 pandemic, civil unrest, and economic challenges, making it challenging to move any legislation, she said.
Reinstein is hopeful the bill will pass Congress by the end of this year.
Reinstein’s husband, a businessman, was exposed to asbestos both at work and through consumer products, she told mesowatch.
“It was really hard for me,” she said. “I thought our government protected us, that our air, water, and soil was free of contaminants,” she said. “I learned the hard way, I was wrong.”
She and her husband ran marathons, skied and traveled around the world.
Then Alan had a slight, persistent cough and started to lose weight. Doctors diagnosed him with mesothelioma.
“I didn’t even know what the word was,” Linda said, describing the doctor’s diagnosis of mesothelioma. “I couldn’t spell it. The learning curve when you get a mesothelioma diagnosis is very steep.”
Three years later, he died.
“The reality is nobody beats mesothelioma,” Linda said.
Their daughter, Emily was 13 when he died.
“Dad, you are a champ, you never gave up,” their daughter told him before he died.
The legislation will save hundreds of thousands of lives in the long-term, Linda said.
“Behind every lost life is a shattered family,” she said. “I have an empty chair at our table. We can’t replace Alan. Who is going to take Emily down the aisle or dance with her at the father-daughter dance?”
Asbestos is a “man-made disaster and there is a cost factor in dollars and lives,” she said. “This bill will save lives and it will also save dollars. People will continue to work. They won’t have medical expenses. It makes good business and public health sense to pass this bill.”