ProPublica released three important pieces, including one in-depth investigation, that focused on the dangers of asbestos from chlor-alkali plants using asbestos diaphragms. Their excellent investigations confirmed there is no safe level of asbestos exposure or controlled use.
The first piece,“The U.S. Never Banned Asbestos. These Workers Are Paying the Price,” highlighted dangerous working conditions at a chlorine plant that used asbestos until it closed last year. It detailed safety standards that were routinely disregarded at an OxyChem Niagara Falls plant. NPR also released a10-minute radio storyabout the investigation. ProPublica then released, “Lawsuits: A Factory Blew Asbestos Into a Neighborhood; Decades Later, Residents Are Getting Sick and Dying,” which details the lawsuits brought against OxyChem by New Yorkers who lived near the OxyChem Niagara Falls plant. The story writes that residents remember asbestos “raining from the sky. It fell on windowsills, on a Little League field and atop fresh snow.”
Building on their reporting, momentum for ARBAN increased as reported in“Lawmakers and Public Health Advocates Call for Congress to Finally Ban Asbestos.” In fact,ADAO sent a letter to House and Senate Committee leadershipurging Congress to make theAlan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now (ARBAN) Acta priority during lame duck session.
Many public health experts and trade unions have seen the fatal impacts of asbestos exposure firsthand and have studied asbestos and its lethal properties for decades, have come forward with comments since the publishing of ProPublica’s investigations.
As Edward Kelly, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters,shared,“Asbestos is a known carcinogen. Any time we respond to a fire where asbestos is present, its fibers will become airborne and can be inhaled by fire fighters. The fibers settle on our skin, and in our gear, equipment, and rigs where it’ll be brought to our firehouses, continuing to re-expose us to this silent killer. More than 70 other governments have already banned asbestos. The United States must take action. The chemical industry will come up with every lie to allow them to continue making money. It’s time to put people’s health over companies’ profits and ban cancer-causing chemicals like asbestos.”
Workers at the plant told ProPublica that asbestos “would splatter on the ceilings and walls, roll across the floor like tumbleweeds and stick to workers’ clothes. Windows and doors were left open, allowing asbestos dust to escape. The company’s own industrial hygiene monitoring showed their workers were repeatedly exposed to unsafe levels. Federal workplace regulators had also stopped conducting regular unannounced inspections at the plant; the Occupational Safety and Health Administration included the Niagara Falls site and others like it in a special program for ‘exemplary’ workplaces.”
“As a surgeon on the front lines I see the suffering of patients and family members every day. The saddest part is that a ban years ago would have prevented this suffering. The solution is simple: no asbestos, no mesothelioma. But corporate profit trumps human life. The right thing to do is simple. Ban asbestos in the United States,”saidRaja Flores, MD, Professor and Chair of Thoracic Surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
Following the publication of the investigation, ADAO sent letters to members of Congress urging them to seriously look into the findings of the investigation and urge them to ban asbestos during the upcoming lame duck Congressional session. The letterwas also mentioned in the ProPublicaseries.
“Much to the surprise of many Americans, asbestos was never banned. And here we are again. With workers rising up to tell their stories. It is way past time to address their concerns. And to ban asbestos once and for all. We have a way: ARBAN. All we need is the will,”saidChristine Oliver, MD, Occupational and Environmental Physician Adjunct Professor, University of Toronto; retired from Massachusetts General Hospital staff/Harvard Medical School faculty.
ARBAN is the most comprehensive bill put before Congress in over 30 years. It would ban all six fibers of asbestos imports and use immediately and provide educational materials to help people understand and adhere to the new laws. It has long had bipartisan support, and was re-introduced by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) this past summer. ADAO is grateful to our three new ARBAN co-sponsors of the bill: Rep. Espaillat, Adriano (D-NY), Del. Norton, Eleanor Holmes (D-DC), and Rep. Pingree, Chellie (D-ME).
Read reactions fromArthur Frank MD, PhD; Richard Lemen, PhD, MSPH; Barry Castleman, ScD; and others are below.
ProPublica and NPR’s excellent reporting undoubtedly shined light on the chlor-alkali industry, the primary asbestos importer and user, who put workers, families, and communities at risk of deadly asbestos-caused diseases. An asbestos ban is long overdue. We urge Congress to make ARBAN a priority during the lame duck session.
“Asbestos is a known carcinogen. Any time we respond to a fire where asbestos is present, its fibers will become airborne and can be inhaled by fire fighters. The fibers settle on our skin, and in our gear, equipment, and rigs where it’ll be brought to our firehouses, continuing to re-expose us to this silent killer. More than 70 other governments have already banned asbestos. The United States must take action. The chemical industry will come up with every lie to allow them to continue making money. It’s time to put people’s health over companies’ profits and ban cancer-causing chemicals like asbestos.”Edward Kelly, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters
The US should join the rest of the civilized world and stop the import, use, and make removal safe for this deadly cancer causing agent that has disrupted so many lives in this country.Arthur Frank MD, PhD
Yesterday Americans were given a grim reminder that a dangerous and lethal toxin – Asbestos – was still used legally in the United States. ProPublica and NPR, highly respected news organizations ran stories reminding Americans that Asbestos was never banned in the U.S. It is time this grim reality is corrected and that the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act of 2022, now before the U.S. Congress is passed. We must stop the 40,000 plus preventable deaths occurring each year from not just the continued use of asbestos, but from the millions of tons of legacy asbestos still found throughout America from past use continuing to expose millions of Americans to asbestos. In order to stop this carnage please contact your Senators and Congressional Representatives and urge passage of this long overdue legislation. It cannot be ignored any longer. Richard A. Lemen, PhD, MSPH, Former Assistant Surgeon General of the United States (Ret).
The reality of the workers in these plants trumps the fiction from the American Chemical Council that the chloralkali industry uses asbestos safely. Shipments of asbestos should not be flowing into communities or workplaces. There’s a bill in Congress to ban asbestos. It’s long passed the time for the U.S. to catch up to the 70 countries that banned asbestos years ago.Celeste Monforton, Dr.PH, MPH, Lecturer in Public Health, Texas State University
As a surgeon on the front lines I see the suffering of patients and family members every day. The saddest part is that a ban years ago would have prevented this suffering. The solution is simple: no asbestos, no mesothelioma. But corporate profit trumps human life. The right thing to do is simple. Ban asbestos in the United States.Raja Flores, MD, Professor and Chair of Thoracic Surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City
This NPR investigation reveals a criminal arrogance of chlorine producers Olin and OxyChem, lying to government regulators while continuing hazardous asbestos use. Rather than modernize antiquated factories, the companies persist in using technology that has been condemned in Europe and widely banned. The companies’ denials were primarily issued through industry trade groups as the companies ducked individual scrutiny over the past 5 years. Barry Castleman, ScD
In the long struggle to finally get an asbestos ban in this country, a major roadblock has been in the way for a generation; big chemical and chlorine manufacturing. These companies are the biggest importer of asbestos into the US today. For years they have insisted on their need for asbestos and crowed about the training and protection their workers receive when working with this known carcinogen. Today, ProPublica breaks news that Olin and OxyChem in New York have a history of putting their workers at high risk, violating established regulations and causing the shortened lives of their workers. It’s time that congress ignore those that lobby for continued use of asbestos in these known dangerous plants and force them to modernize without the use of asbestos. In this we may actually get the traction we need to finally ban asbestos use in the US. Tom Laubenthal, asbestos subject matter expert, TGL Consulting, Inc., Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
The story of Henry Saenz is heartbreaking. Heartbreaking because asbestosis and cancers caused by asbestos are preventable, have always been preventable. As an occupational physician working with the Oil, Chemical, & Atomic Workers Union (OCAW) in the late 70’s/early 80’s, I carried out health hazard evaluations at several big chemical plants in Niagara Falls. The hazards varied – with one exception. Asbestos. The risk of exposure was higher in some plants than others, but ever-present. I worked with union members who went to jobs in these plants day after day, year after year. Like Mr. Saenz, they understood that their jobs were dangerous. But like him, they risked their lives to give their children a better life. This was a time when OSHA was coming into its own – beginning to take meaningful steps to protect the health and safety of the Nation’s workers. But this ubiquitous hazard remained. Much to the surprise of many Americans, asbestos was never banned. And here we are again. With workers rising up to tell their stories. It is way past time to address their concerns. And to ban asbestos once and for all. We have a way – ARBAN. All we need is the will.Christine Oliver, MD, Occupational and Environmental Physician Adjunct Professor, University of Toronto; retired from Massachusetts General Hospital staff/Harvard Medical School faculty.
This powerful article explodes the decades-long claim of the chlor-alkali industry that its use of asbestos is safe for workers. There can no longer be any doubt that, as EPA has found, asbestos-using plants present a serious risk to the worker health and this risk must be eliminated. The companies in the industry who have clung to the obsolete asbestos diaphragm process must now stop fighting a ban and work with Congress on legislation mandating a transition to safer technology.Bob Sussman, ADAO Counsel and former EPA Senior Official
What this story highlights is that the ONLY way to insure the safety of workers, their families and the general public is an outright ban of asbestos. Regulating and trying to control how it is “handled” only leads to more suffering and death, as I see in my thoracic cancer surgical practice when people succumb to mesothelioma. These stories are terrifying but must draw attention and support for the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act. Andrea Wolf, MD, MPH, Associate Professor of Thoracic Surgery at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
I was absolutely infuriated and sick when I read this article. We’re talking about very recent incidents where workers are still exposed while industry turns a blind eye. I thought about my own stepfather, who endured unsafe conditions at a shipyard leading to fatal mesothelioma, and the countless other types of workers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice due to asbestos exposure. Why is the chlor-alkali industry continuously doled out exceptions when safer options for that industry exists? Why are we putting profits over lives? We must pass the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act, now, in order to stop all of the insanity and needless suffering. Kim Cecchini, ADAO Board Member
“I am sorry to say, but this investigation and story by ProPublica is not a surprise to those of us that are involved in the asbestos control and remediation industry. The only surprise is how long it takes for the truth to finally emerge. Since our organization, the Environmental Information Association, was founded in the early 1980’s, it has been our mission to collect, generate and disseminate accurate, balanced information regarding environmental hazards in buildings and facilities. Mistruths about asbestos was the genesis of our association, and still today, we are the leading source of information regarding asbestos in buildings. We have never been “one-sided.” In fact, our organization was a leader in spreading the message that managing asbestos in place in buildings is often preferable and safer than a poorly executed abatement project.
ProPublica is finally getting to the accuracy and balance that every US citizen deserves. The chlorine industry has tried to convince lawmakers and the public that asbestos is handled safely in their facilities. However, their own employee monitoring data submitted to EPA as a part of the current rulemaking process tells a different story. When that effort failed, a campaign was waged regarding the importance of chlorine to drinking water in our country. This even attracted the attention of no less than 12 state attorneys general. However, the “truth” is that only 5-6% of chlorine production is used for water treatment in our country.
Our efforts to collect, generate and disseminate accurate, balanced information are not well-financed, and do not garner widespread attention. However, one thing is certain, our country is woefully behind in enacting a ban on asbestos. There is no safe level of exposure, and we should STOP importing it into our country and using it in commerce so that we can focus on solving the problem of the asbestos that already exists in buildings and facilities nationwide.”J. Brent Kynoch, Managing Director, The Environmental Information Association
“This story is important because workers deserve a safe place to work, free of airborne asbestos. The best solution is to hire a licensed train asbestos removal company. Then the problem is eliminated. Dozens of families are affected by their loved ones’ exposure to asbestos.”John Newquist