Recent Asbestos Exposures Highlight Demand For Government Action

06/05/2015 05:02 pm ET | Updated Jun 05, 2016

Every day brings news that people in communities across America are being exposed to asbestos in unexpected places.

-- Employees at Central Michigan University in Mt Pleasant were relocated or sent home after workers disturbed insulation and old pipes in an air duct, sending asbestos fibers airborne, according to an online article published on

-- A real estate developer in Toledo, Ohio, pled guilty to ripping asbestos out of a job site and disposing of it illegally.

-- A school district in southeast Louisiana is scheduled to begin asbestos removal at Midway Elementary School.

-- Firefighters in Buffalo had to be decontaminated for asbestos exposure after putting out a house fire, the Buffalo News reported.

-- Nearly 80,000 tons of asbestos-contaminated dirt was removed from a construction site in Dania Beach, Fla. The asbestos-laced debris "had been wafting into the yards of nearby homes in Melaleuca Gardens, sparking complaints galore from Dania Beach officials and residents," according to a report in the Sun-Sentinel.

All these incidents occurred within the same week, and that's only the ones we know about.

Asbestos is a known human carcinogen that is responsible for roughly 15,000 deaths a year in the U.S. alone. It's not used as widely as it once was, but millions of homes, schools, office buildings and other structures built before 1980 almost certainly contain this lethal mineral. Even today, asbestos is being used in some new products, including construction materials and automobile parts.

The only way for people to find out where asbestos lurks in their communities is from after-the-fact accounts like those highlighted above. We can do better. The American people deserve to know which products contain asbestos and where those items might turn up.

A bill now before Congress would give Americans information that would help them avoid coming in contact with asbestos.

The Reduce Exposure to Asbestos Database Act, or READ Act, authored by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill) and Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) would require companies that manufacture, import or handle asbestos to report that information annually to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These companies would be obligated to disclose whether any of these products were installed in publicly accessible locations over the previous year. These reports would be available in an online database.

The companies that continue to rely on asbestos should bear the burden of informing people of potential asbestos exposure threats. Until asbestos is no longer allowed for use in everyday products, the READ Act is a common-sense approach to protecting public health, at virtually no cost to the taxpayer.