Historically, new bills designed to reform the country’s chemical laws are slow to move and fought every step of the way by lobbyists for asbestos-related industries. Any amount of positive change, no matter how small, will take persistent action, not just from environmental groups and worker advocates, but from working-class citizens, victims, and families across the country.
Why Is the U.S. Behind the Curve?
The State of Asbestos Regulations
Other companies like Georgia-Pacific (a subsidiary of the corporate giant, Koch Industries) was caught paying scientists $6 million dollars to produce false conclusions that suggested asbestos was harmless. Koch Industries provides an excellent and chilling example of how big corporations can oppose legislation that’s in the best interest of the public’s health. A recent study pointed out that Koch Industries spent “$20.5 million over the [two] years to influence federal policy, as the company’s lobbyists and officials sought to mold, gut, or kill more than 100 prospective bills or regulations.” These organizations influence public policy by essentially bribing government officials.
How Much Sway Do Lobbyists Hold Over U.S. Lawmakers?
Why Not Ban Asbestos?
Since the regulations are loose and ill-defined, companies can deceive the public by claiming a product contains “rictile” or “chrysotile” (specific forms of asbestos), rather than using these products’ more well-known name. The current laws in the United States ban certain construction materials, but there are at least 3,600 asbestos-containing products, available in department and hardware stores that don’t list asbestos as an ingredient.
At least 3,600 asbestos-containing products are available in department and hardware stores… Some of the most common asbestos-containing products are roofing materials, automobile brake discs and clutches, and vinyl tile. This suggests that if you live in a house and drive (or ride in) a car, you are, at the very least in proximity to asbestos on a daily basis. And these items only account for the products that are still legal and in production — they don’t even begin to touch on the nearly uncountable number of items still being used today that were produced in the 70s and 80s. These older asbestos-containing products are even less stable and more likely to release toxic particles into the air.
Can We Survive without Asbestos?
Moving forward with TSCA Reform
What these reform bills reveal is that mega corporations like Koch Industries, Honeywell, 3M, and Dow are still influential enough to block Congress from passing a comprehensive bill that protects working families.
Getting Worse Before Getting Better
Health organizations and action groups around the world predict that right now is the peak time for asbestos-related deaths and that those death rates will stay high until at least 2050. The reason for this is that mesothelioma takes 20-50 years on average to be diagnosed in a patient. The danger of asbestos is that it is not a threat we can see clearly and in the moment. An asbestos hazard in 2015 means thousands of deaths stretched out over the next several decades.
Asbestos is an indiscriminate killer and reform is much needed but hard to affect – big asbestos-industry corporations have billions of dollars and decades-old trade agreements on their side. The great and unfortunate irony here is that American politics have themselves become too much like a product – laws are bought and sold on the free market by corporations who will do absolutely anything to fatten their wallets. For the thousands of families who live and die by asbestos-reform laws, it’s time for that product to be recalled and fixed.