Support for legislation prohibiting the manufacture, processing, use and distribution in commerce of commercial asbestos, a top priority for the IAFF, is gaining traction on Capitol Hill. The Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act had its first hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works earlier this week.
More than 70 nations have already banned asbestos, and the IAFF and other advocacy groups are urging the United States to do the same.
“As IAFF members suffer from asbestos-caused cancers and diseases at more than twice the national rate, banning asbestos is a critical piece in our battle to extinguish cancer from the fire service,” says General President Edward Kelly. “On behalf of our 328,000 members, I would like to thank U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley and Representative Suzanne Bonamici for introducing the bill. We appreciate their continued support of our brothers and sisters.”
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) maintains that the safe level of asbestos is zero. Each and every time a fire fighter is exposed, the potential for developing asbestos-induced cancer or illness is significant.
Testifying on behalf of the IAFF, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Danny Whu explained, “At any emergency where asbestos is present, its fibers will become airborne and be inhaled by fire fighters.”
He continued, “These can also settle on their skin, gear, equipment and apparatus. When fire fighters return to the firehouse, they’ll unknowingly bring this killer back with them, and be silently and continuously reexposed.”
Whu was on Florida Task Force 1 when it was deployed to Ground Zero in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He says the collapse of the twin towers resulted in hundreds of thousands of tons of pulverized and aerosolized asbestos. As a result, more than 100,000 rescue personnel (including fire fighters) were exposed.
“Due to the latency period, fire fighters and others who were exposed in the aftermath of the terrorist attack and subsequent collapse of the twin towers continue to be diagnosed with asbestos-related cancers and diseases,” said Whu. “You cannot change the past, but you can prevent future tragedies by banning asbestos today.”
The Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act is named after Alan Reinstein, who lost his battle with asbestos-induced mesothelioma in 2006. Reinstein and his wife, Linda, founded Asbestos Diseases and Awareness Organization (ADAO), an organization dedicated to exposing the deadly effects of asbestos exposure. Linda Reinstein also provided testimony during the hearing.