Officials inside the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) disregarded scientific evidence brought forward by their own experts when they chose not to ban asbestos last August, according to two internal memos.
According to a report earlier this month in The New York Times, the agency allowed manufacturers to seek approval for new uses of asbestos, as well as some older uses, despite known health risks associated with the toxic substance.
The information comes after the EPA refused to put an outright ban on asbestos in place last month, despite public comments by doctors, health experts and consumers that supported a ban. Now, The New York Times has published internal memos that show even the EPA’s own experts were against the decision.
EPA personnel objected to claims that “new uses” of asbestos could be safer, of narrow definitions of what asbestos is, and also complained that the EPA was only considering lung cancer and mesothelioma as potential asbestos harms.
“There are other significant lethal and non-lethal harms from asbestos exposures, including asbestosis and other respiratory ailments, ovarian cancer, colorectal cancer, and cancers of the stomach, esophagus, larynx and pharynx,” according to a letter (PDF) dated August 10, 2018, from Richard Mednick, an associate regional counsel with the EPA; Julie Wroble, a toxicologist and member of the EPA’s Asbestos Technical Review Workgroup; and John Pavitt, an Air Compliance Inspector. “These additional harms should be included if there is to be a comprehensive evaluation of the risks from exposure to asbestos.”
They weren’t. And the EPA went ahead with the rule promulgation last month, angering critics.
Earlier this month, lawmakers held a press conference announcing they were going to call for a complete asbestos ban in a bill introduced in March. It would ban not only production, but also use and importation of asbestos in the United States.
The effort is being led by New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr.
Exposure to asbestos has been linked to a number of serious and life-threatening health risks, including mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and other ailments.
Mesothelioma is a particularly deadly cancer, which is only known to result from breathing asbestos fibers. As a result of a long latency period of between 20 and 40 years between exposure to asbestos and diagnosis, the cancer is often at a very advanced stage by the time it is discovered and usually results in death.
Currently, asbestos is banned for use in corrugated paper, roll board, commercial paper, and specialty paper, flooring felt and new commercial uses that begin after August 25, 1989. However, even though the fibrous material is toxic even in small amounts, it is still in use in some industries. It is frequently used in automobile brake pads and clutches, vinyl tiles and roofing materials.
Although asbestos has been banned in more than 60 countries, and is the number one cause of work-related deaths in the world, the United States still continues to import and use the cancer-causing material in every day products, despite recognizing its potential dangers more than 40 years ago.