Asbestos Federal agencies Manufacturing

Sen. Tom Udall: EPA proposals on asbestos alarming


Photo: ChrisPole/iStock/Thinkstock

Washington — A pair of recent Environmental Protection Agency proposals regarding asbestos are cause for alarm, Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) is cautioning, while the agency contends it is attempting to expand restrictions on the substance.

In June, EPA issued new problem formulation documents that “refine the scope of risk evaluation” for asbestos and nine other chemicals, as well as a significant new use rule proposal. The problem formulation or risk evaluation would not include asbestos in older buildings or the millions of pounds of asbestos that is dumped in landfills, according to the agency.

EPA states in a June 1 press release that the significant new use rule “would require manufacturers and importers to receive EPA approval before starting or resuming manufacturing, and importing or processing of asbestos. This review process would provide EPA with the opportunity to evaluate the intended use of asbestos and, when necessary, take action to prohibit or limit the use.”

In a statement issued Aug. 14, Udall counters that EPA “is proposing to conduct a risk evaluation that excludes among the most common exposures to the known carcinogen asbestos. EPA is ignoring the risk posed by asbestos present in countless homes and buildings.” Udall, who is ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, is calling for EPA to ban the substance completely.

In 1973, the agency began banning spray-applied material for fireproofing or insulating purposes that contained asbestos. It prohibited more uses of asbestos two years later, and tried to issue an almost total ban on the substance in 1989 as part of the Toxic Substances Control Act.

That final rule was overturned two years later by the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and only new uses of asbestos initiated after 1989 – along with five other types of products – are prohibited.

Asbestos is a commercial label for six minerals that feature bundles of fibers, which can be turned into threads for many applications. Those fibers are known for their fire resistance. People can breathe in those fibers, which can build up and cause scarring or inflammation. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has linked asbestos exposure to lung cancer and mesothelioma – a rare cancer of the membranes in the abdomen and chest – among other health problems.

An estimated 15,000 people die from asbestos-related diseases in the United States each year, Linda Reinstein, co-founder and president of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, said in a June 1 press release.

“It is incredulous to know that the EPA has ignored the science, the history and the carnage that asbestos has caused throughout the nation each year,” Reinstein said. “From the World Health Organization to the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General, there is global consensus that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure or controlled use of asbestos.”

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