The Environmental Protection Agency under President Trump is taking a narrow, restrictive view of its responsibility under a 2016 federal law to evaluate the risk of asbestos to “humans and the environment.” We have written here before about the crucially important Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act – the product of painfully difficult legislative compromise – that amends the Toxic Substances Control Act or TSCA.
Lautenberg EPA Mandates
The Lautenberg law requires the EPA to conduct risk evaluations of 90 toxic substances on a rolling basis. Not surprisingly, asbestos is on the first list of 10 chemicals for review. The agency has three years to evaluate each chemical and if it finds “unreasonable risk” to people and the environment, it has another two years to determine how to reduce the risk.
In July, we expressed concern about the uncertainty of the EPA’s handling of these risk assessments because of President Trump’s cavalier, treacherous attitude toward asbestos specifically and the corresponding EPA embrace of industry-friendly policies generally. Our blog described Trump’s untrue, published statement that asbestos is “100 percent safe, once applied.”
Now, Trump’s EPA is “retreating from … congressionally mandated review” of asbestos and other dangerous substances because of pressure from the chemical industry, reports the Associated Press. Notably, the administration says it will limit its evaluation of chemical danger only to products currently being made and sold.
This practice would eliminate evaluation of the danger to people and the environment from the tons and tons of products historically sold that largely ended up as materials and fixtures added to buildings, vehicles, ships and more. When buildings and other structures are repaired, remodeled, demolished or sometimes even merely cleaned or minimally disturbed, the potential release into the air of invisible asbestos fibers can cause deadly cancers and other horrible diseases when breathed in.
AP says that this approach has many prominent and credible critics, especially firefighters and constructions workers at particular risk of exposure from legacy use of asbestos-containing materials or ACMs. The very nature of their work calls for continual exposure to broken, burned, crushed or otherwise compromised ACMs like flooring, tiles, roofing, insulation and many more.
We will watch with great concern whether the EPA proceeds in this way to remove the teeth from the Lautenberg mandates to the detriment of human and environmental health.