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A Hands-Off EPA Amidst Higher Asbestos-Death Estimates

Landfill.jpegWe have blogged extensively about the bipartisan Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, often referred to as the Lautenberg Act, that established a new legislative framework for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or EPA to evaluate and regulate the most dangerous toxic chemicals in our midst.

As we recently discussed, while asbestos was chosen to be included in the list of the first 10 chemicals EPA will evaluate, EPA Secretary Pruitt has greatly emasculated the law's potential to comprehensively study the dangers of asbestos. Pruitt has announced that EPA will not consider dangers posed by previous placement of asbestos in buildings and other spaces, including landfills.

The pro-industry secretary will only consider risks that could arise under proposed new asbestos uses, but as is widely known, asbestos is present in many products already used in building construction, in equipment and more. The release of invisible asbestos into the air in demolition, repair, renovation and other commercial and private activities poses deadly threat to workers and others who may breathe it in.

Union of Concerned Scientists

On June 22, Derrick Z. Jackson, a fellow at the Union of Concerned Scientists, published a blog on the UCS website in which he expressed his opinion that Pruitt's narrow view of EPA's responsibility to regulate asbestos "essentially guts the Lautenberg Act."

According to Jackson, EPA documents establish the agency's attempt to "scale back safety evaluations for the top 10 chemicals" on the Lautenberg list. He also shared other disturbing information:

  • Seven out of 10 school districts responding had asbestos present in their buildings, according to a 2015 U.S. Senate report.
  • Pruitt's policy callously denies the disproportionate harm to children and lower-income people from asbestos in schools, run-down apartments and proximity to toxic-waste disposal sites.
  • Companies and manufacturers of products containing asbestos "engaged in decades of cover-ups," keeping information about asbestos risks from employees and workers at other companies using these products.
  • A new study estimates that about 255,000 asbestos-related deaths occur annually worldwide, more than double the previous World Health Organization assessment.
  • The Asbestos Disease Society of Australia says a new "third wave" of asbestos injury is approaching that threatens everyone (not just people exposed through work) through exposure from "demolition, cable installation, home remodeling, car repairs" and crumbling schools.

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