U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Scott Pruitt said recently that when it evaluates asbestos for its danger to people and the environment, the agency will not assess potential harm from previous placement of the mineral in buildings and structures or in outdoor spaces. Rather, it will only look at potential risk from newly proposed uses.
Pruitt is talking about the agency’s duties under 2016 amendments to the federal Toxic Substances Control Act or TSCA, also called the Lautenberg Amendments, to conduct on-going, rolling evaluations of the most dangerous chemicals for the risk of harm they create. After evaluation, the EPA is supposed to determine whether the chemical should be restricted in use or even banned.
EPA placed asbestos on the list of the first 10 chemicals to be reviewed.
We have covered the evolution of this law extensively in our blogs, expressing our serious concern that the Trump administration will not live up to the law’s serious, thorough evaluation requirements. It is now clear that the administration is not going to take its responsibilities seriously. Ignoring the danger of asbestos already contained in building materials all around us will not allow adequate assessment of asbestos danger.
Consider the risks to firefighters, remodelers, construction workers, ship repairers, demolition workers and others when structures that may contain asbestos like roofs, tiles, adhesives, insulation, linoleum and more are broken or crushed during their job tasks, releasing invisible, deadly asbestos minerals into the air where they can be breathed in. Decades later, the exposure could cause horrible cancers and other diseases.
Removing evaluation of the danger of this immense risk emasculates the Lautenberg review requirements. Officials within Trump’s EPA have had close connections with the chemical-industry lobby. Newsweek quotes Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr., D-NJ, who worked hard to get the law passed, as saying that “Pruitt will bend over backwards to help industry, but won’t lift a finger to protect public health.”
According to The New York Times, the agency’s approach will also exclude evaluation of danger from unsafe chemical disposal or placement of asbestos in dumps and landfills.
The Times also reports that a coalition of environmental and labor organizations have a lawsuit pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco that asks whether the EPA’s exercise of discretion by narrowing the chemical uses evaluated complies with the law.