Montana Senators urged to break ranks and support asbestos ban as part of National Asbestos Awareness Week

Montana Senators urged to break ranks and support asbestos ban as part of National Asbestos Awareness Week

Last week, Montana Senators helped to pass a resolution that designates the first week of April this year as “National Asbestos Awareness Week” within the state. However, many local residents and asbestos awareness advocates are pushing for greater action, including a ban on the importation, manufacturing and usage of asbestos-containing materials.

An editorial in the Missoulian notes that all Americans should be aware of the “deadly fibre that kills 40,000 Americans every year, its victims dying horrible deaths of cancer and suffocation.” They point out that Montana has suffered more than its fair share at the hands of asbestos, pointing to the Libby asbestos mine.

Libby was home to the vermiculite mine run by W.R. Grace & Company and provided a major source of income for the town during its operation between 1963 and 1990. However, as the town prospered and industry thrived, it is considered the site of one of the most significant American manufactured environmental disasters.

Asbestos dust from the vermiculite mines that contributed so heartily to the local economy also resulted in the deaths of hundreds of residents, and given the extended latency period of asbestos-related diseases, that number continues to climb, and will likely continue to rise.

According to a 2021 study published in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, it’s estimated that close to 700 residents have died from asbestos-related diseases. While that may not sound like much, in the last three decades, the population of Libby has hovered at around 3,000 at any point.

The breadth of the ongoing damage and risk to human health is best shown through current numbers: 1 in 10 residents have an asbestos-related illness. The study noted above also reports a 15-fold increased risk of mesothelioma among workers from the mine compared to those who didn’t.

Asbestos ban campaigners expressed frustration at the announcement last week over “National Asbestos Awareness Week”, citing previous bills that have failed to pass which would have banned asbestos. They also noted that the American Environmental Protection Authority is working towards a nationwide ban – but this would only apply to chrysotile asbestos, not the more dangerous tremolite, which was the culprit in Libby.

Montana Senators Daines and Tester, who supported the recent bill, would “be a hero to many” if they broke partisan ranks and signed on to support asbestos-banning legislation.

The editorial notes that “Eighteen years of resolutions amount to nothing”, citing that “almost an entire generation (will have) no concrete steps to stop the exposure that all too often leads to a slow-motion death sentence.”

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