The topic of asbestos is always shrouded in a haze of misunderstanding, half understandings and disinformation.  Many people believe that asbestos has been banned in the United States.  It has not.  Similarly, many people also believe that asbestos is a problem that is going away. Sadly, it isn’t going anywhere.  As a matter of fact, asbestos is still routinely mined in Canada and is sold directly and indirectly for use in products regularly sold in the United States.

Last week I found myself reading Andrew Schneider’s blog, “Cold Truth.”   Schneider, a Pulitzer prize winning journalist, noted that the American Public Health Association at long last is calling on the U.S. congress to enact a ban on the manufacture, sale, export, or import of all asbestos-containing products. Mr. Schneider correctly points out that the United States has basically never had any kind of meaningful ban on asbestos.  For a brief time in the late 80’s asbestos was banned from being imported into the United States.  However, this ban was defeated by legal challenges funded almost entirely by a Canadian industrial group.

Mr. Schneider didn’t discuss the details of the Canadian group involved.  I would like to put a little light on them now.

The Canadian group, then known as the “Asbestos Institute” is, to my way of thinking, exactly analogous to the lobbying powers used by the tobacco industry.  The Asbestos Institute routinely denied, even until very recently, that asbestos was a carcinogen.  They deny that their products hurt anyone.   And when the facts aren’t with them, the Asbestos Institute does anything and everything in its power to protect its industry, public health be damned.

Of course, the world has come to realize that asbestos is deadly.  So to avoid the stigma of “asbestos,” the Asbestos Institute changed its name.  They are now called “The Chrysotile Institute.” Now they don’t deny that asbestos CAN cause cancer, they just deny that THEIR asbestos causes cancer.  Specifically, they state that even though chrysotile is a form of asbestos, it is a harmless form of asbestos. They go on to say that, even if their asbestos were dangerous, if properly used it’s as harmless as mother’s milk.

Of course, this is complete hogwash, and they know it.  Their main tactic is to keep anyone from ever discussing the dangers of asbestos.  In a recent newsletter The Chrysotile Institute crows about keeping the topic of chrysotile out of the Rotterdam convention of industrial nations. Note that the topic of banning chrysotile wasn’t even on the table.  This was simply a request that chrysotile asbestos be included on a list of hazardous substances and chemicals.

As mentioned at the outset, the topic of asbestos is always shrouded in misunderstanding.  Much of the misunderstandings are intentionally perpetuated.  The asbestos industry has killed hundreds of thousands of people, just like the tobacco industry.  As long as there is money to be made, the asbestos industry will stop at nothing to continue the mining, sale and export of their deadly products.

This is why it is important, as Mr. Schneider observes, that the American Public Health Association is at long last taking a stand on this issue.  Mr. Schneider quoted Linda Reinstein, Director of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization on this.  “APHA set a precedent with strong language aimed at preventing asbestos exposure to eliminate deadly diseases.  We can’t let history repeat itself – it is time to ban asbestos and fund educational and research programs,” says Linda Reinstein.

Benjamin Franklin is famously quoted for saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  This, in the case of asbestos disease, is painfully true.  All asbestos diseases can be prevented.

The Simmons Hanly Conroy has been a leader in funding research in finding a cure for asbestos diseases.  More than anything, we want our clients, and all asbestos victims, to be cured.  More fundamentally, though, we would like for people not to get asbestos diseases at all, which is why we support a meaningful federal ban on the mining, use, import and export of any and all asbestos and asbestos containing products.