Will A New EPA Administration Move To Ban Asbestos?

EnvironmentHealth & Wellness

Last year, before the Presidential election, a House bill calling for a ban on the manufacturing and importation of asbestos was expected to pass with bipartisan support. At the last minute, however, the bill stalled unexpectedly. Democratic lawmakers blamed their Republican counterparts for objecting to high-profile talc and asbestos litigation—the 25,000 Johnson & Johnson talc powder cancer lawsuits, for example—continuing unabated. Republicans countered that Democrats were kowtowing to trial attorneys. 

Now that there’s a new Presidential administration, proponents of an asbestos ban are wondering if the carcinogenic mineral that’s used in cosmetics, brake pads, construction materials and several other products, will finally be banned. 

According to EENews.net, asbestos represents an indictment of the official chemical policy of the US government. The 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was created to prevent harmful chemical compounds like asbestos from protecting the public. However, an estimated 40,000 people every year die because of illnesses caused by asbestos exposure.

EENews.net quotes Bob Sussman, a former EPA official and an attorney, who now represents multiple groups in asbestos litigation against the agency he used to work for. Sussman said, “If you can’t ban asbestos, it’s not doing its job.” 

Under the Trump administration, the EPA issued a risk assessment on asbestos that listed chrysotile as the lone problematic fiber. Chrysotile may be the most ubiquitous type of asbestos fiber but it’s not the only one. There are six types of asbestos fibers, which can easily be released into the atmosphere and lodge in lung tissue. 

The EPA’s most recent asbestos assessment was also controversial because it listed only two diseases associated with asbestos exposure: lung cancer and mesothelioma. But according to The Mesothelioma Center, there are several other conditions that can develop because of asbestos exposure, including: COPD, pleural plaques, pleural thickening, pleural effusion and atelectasis.

The EPA’s own Science Advisory Committee on Chemicals found the risk assessment inadequate. EENEWS.net adds, “Advocates similarly decried the Trump administration’s failure to consider certain exposure pathways and legacy uses.”

EENEWS.net says that groups such as Safer Chemicals and Healthy Families successfully sued over the issue, when in November 2019, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that EPA had violated TSCA by excluding legacy uses. The ruling spurred the EPA to classify its risk assessment as a part one; the agency plans on issuing a part two assessment that will “evaluate legacy asbestos uses and associated disposals of asbestos,” per EENEWS.net.

Sussman called the second evaluation “an invention by EPA that is outside the law.” He said advocates are concerned about the schedule for releasing the second assessment. “The goal is a court ruling that the omissions, limited scope and other deficiencies in the evaluation violate TSCA and must be fixed,” Sussman said, per EENEWS.net.

Also controversial was the 2018 decision by the EPA to not include asbestos in its list of chemicals under the Chemical Data Reporting rule, which requires manufacturers to provide chemical information. In December of 2020, a District Court judge ruled against the EPA. 

However, proponents of an asbestos ban, who are pollyannaish about a Biden administration helping their cause faced a big setback. The Biden administration argued that the court had overstepped in its ruling, EENEWS.net reports. 

“We’re disappointed and surprised that the Biden EPA is continuing to fight us on this issue,” said Sussman, per EENEWS.net.

Whether the Biden administration will move to ban asbestos remains to be seen. But judging by the first 100 days of the new administration, when it comes to removing this cancer-causing chemical from the marketplace, seemingly, the more things change, the more they stay the same. This article was adapted from a much longer report on EENEWS.net. Click here to read the full story.

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