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What’s a life worth? Even today, asbestos all around

By Jessica Centers and Matthew Korade
Anniston Star, March 30, 2005

If you came of age in the 1970s, when nights were alive with nightclub lights, you might have gotten more than disco fever when you blow-dried your ’do.

Hair dryers were one of many products that contained flame-retardant asbestos. If you owned a home, drove a car, worked in construction or in a hospital, it might have been there, too.

Asbestos was the wonder material used to build millions of houses, schools and office buildings. It was in more than 30 categories of products. The list includes appliances, such as clothes dryers, dishwashers, ovens, refrigerators and electric heaters.

Asbestos still is used today.

Although the material was heavily regulated in the 1970s, it was never banned and is in products ranging from car brakes to plaster and spackling compounds, vinyl floor tiles, ceiling panels, asphalt shingles, wallboard, caulking and several kinds of insulation used in homes, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The U.S. Geological Survey reports that, of the asbestos used throughout the United States in 2004, 60 percent was in roofing materials, 25 percent in coatings and compounds and 15 percent in other applications.

Some of those uses in Alabama include water pipes.

According to records from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, 85 water systems in Alabama contain asbestos-cement water pipe, including local systems in Ashland, Lineville, Wedowee, Pell City and Ragland, where the former workers of Capco, a now-closed asbestos pipe plant, have developed asbestos-related disease.

The Environmental Protection Agency tried to ban asbestos in 1989, but the asbestos industry filed suit and won. In 1991, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the ban, saying it failed to provide "the least burdensome alternative" for eliminating the risk of asbestos exposure.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., has proposed legislation to enact another ban. The bill would outlaw several forms of asbestos, increase research for related diseases and study all asbestos-containing products and contaminated areas in the United States.

Murray testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in June 2003 that she hopes a ban will be included in any forthcoming Congressional asbestos legislation, such as the creation of a national trust fund to compensate victims of asbestos disease and remove their claims from the courts.

"I’d like to make one very important point," she testified. "If we are going to protect companies from asbestos lawsuits indefinitely into the future, then we must protect all current and future asbestos victims into the future as well."