updated 3/1/2007 4:40:04 PM ET 2007-03-01T21:40:04

The widow of a congressman who died from asbestos-related cancer urged Congress on Thursday to pass legislation that would ban the substance.

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Sue Vento told a Senate panel about the battle waged by her late husband, Bruce Vento, against malignant mesothelioma, a rare type of cancer caused by inhaling asbestos fibers. Vento, a Democratic congressman from Minnesota, died of the disease in 2000.

"Your bill will bring hope to all of us whose lives have been touched by this disease," Vento told the Senate Health Committee's employment and workplace safety subcommittee. "It will prohibit the use of asbestos and will correct the mistaken belief held by so many that asbestos was banned decades ago."

Asbestos is a fibrous mineral commonly used until the mid-1970s in insulation and fireproofing material. Its tiny fibers can cause cancer and other ailments when inhaled. The diseases often take decades to develop.

Most American automakers stopped using asbestos in brakes in the 1990s, but some imported brakes still use the material.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., held up a box of brake pads containing asbestos that she said was purchased this week.

"How many more Americans have to die before our government finally does the right thing and bans asbestos?" she asked. "We have to do the right thing, and we have to do it now." She said that more than 40 countries have banned asbestos.

Murray has pushed similar legislation for years, but chances have improved with Democrats running Congress.

The subcommittee's ranking Republican, Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, said that different forms of asbestos pose different health risks.

"Any ban passed by Congress must recognize these differences," he said.

In 1991, a federal appeals court overturned a 1989 EPA rule banning most asbestos-containing products.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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