Currently, multiple articles and editorials in U.S. media are sounding the alarm that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to allow new uses of asbestos. At a time when Canada is moving toward a 2019 ban, we are going the opposite direction, despite the deaths of thousands around the globe every year from exposure to the deadly carcinogen.
Health professionals, work safety advocates, environmentalists and concerned members of the public had hoped that the Frank J. Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act would provide the means to enact tighter restrictions or a total ban in our country. Asbestos was one of the first 10 chemicals EPA named to undergo rigorous review for its dangerous propensities to determine appropriate controls that would keep people and the environment safe.
Lautenberg Act on its Head
In a reversal, the Trump Administration has chosen through its EPA to shortchange this process by declaring it would not look back at historical dangers and risks, only forward at proposed new uses. This kicks out the floor from under the new law because few expected the EPA to use it as a basis for expansion of the use of the mineral.
On June 1, EPA proposed a Significant New Use Rule or SNUR that would let the agency approve new uses of asbestos with 90 days’ notice from the person or company requesting approval. EPA accepted public comments on the proposal through August 10. Specifically, the proposal says that potential new uses could include building materials (except cement), including roof coatings, millboard, pipeline wrap, roofing felt and vinyl floor tile.
Most Americans would undoubtedly object to an increased risk in newer construction of not knowing whether it is safe to replace floor tile or repair a roof. Already we must deal with the deadly legacy of asbestos-caused diseases in the renovation, remodeling, demolition and fire-fighting fields because of exposure to asbestos from broken, crushed or burnt building materials that have released the invisible mineral into the air.
The new rule could bring a whole new wave of dangerous materials into our homes, schools, public buildings, businesses and workplaces.
Disturbingly, U.S. asbestos imports from January through April of this year are almost four times higher than those of the same time period last year, according to the Montana Standard, citing the International Trade Commission’s data as reviewed by the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization. Could the steep spike in asbestos importation be a sign of what some in government and industry have planned for expanded use of the dangerous mineral?