EPA publishes first installment of controversial risk evaluation for asbestos
Washington — Critics of the Environmental Protection Agency are renewing their call for a complete ban on asbestos after the agency’s release of Part 1 of a final risk evaluation that concludes that the substance – a known human carcinogen – presents an unreasonable health risk to workers under certain conditions.
Used in chlor-alkali production, consumer products, coatings and compounds, plastics, roofing products, and other applications, asbestos is among the first 10 chemicals under evaluation for potential health and environmental risks under the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act.
Released Dec. 30 and announced via a notice published in the Jan. 4 Federal Register, Part 1 of the final evaluation centers on chrysotile asbestos and states the substance poses unreasonable risk to workers involved in numerous operations, including:
- Processing and industrial use of asbestos diaphragms in the chlor-alkali industry
- Processing and industrial use of asbestos-containing sheet gaskets in chemical production
- Industrial use and disposal of asbestos-containing brake blocks in the oil industry
- Commercial use and disposal of aftermarket automotive asbestos-containing brakes/lining, other vehicle friction products and other asbestos-containing gaskets
As required under the Toxic Substances Control Act, which the Lautenberg Act amended, EPA must address risks by proposing within one year regulatory actions such as training, certification, restricted access and/or ban of commercial use, and then accept public comment on any proposals.
EPA states that Part 2 of the final risk evaluation is in development, and anticipates releasing a draft scope around the middle of the year. Part 2 will focus on legacy uses and disposals of asbestos, which the agency defines as “conditions of use for which manufacture (including import), processing and distribution of commerce no longer occur, but where use and disposal are still known, intended or reasonably foreseen to occur (e.g., asbestos in older buildings).”
In a press release, the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization asserts the two-part approach is incomplete, noting that the agency omits five other types of asbestos fiber beyond chrysotile in Part 1 while failing to address known health effects related to asbestos, including asbestosis and ovarian cancer. Additionally, Part 1 “is based on grossly incomplete information about current asbestos exposure and use,” the nonprofit organization contends.
“EPA’s final risk evaluation ignores the numerous recommendations of its own scientific advisors and other independent experts by claiming that these deficiencies will be addressed in a future Part 2 evaluation,” ADAO President and co-founder Linda Reinstein said in the release. “Based on this sleight-of-hand maneuver, the agency has issued a piecemeal and dangerously incomplete evaluation that overlooks numerous sources of asbestos exposure and risk, and understates the enormous toll of disease and death for which asbestos is responsible.”
The House on Sept. 29 was slated to vote on the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act, a bill that calls for a federal ban of asbestos. The legislation is named for Reinstein’s late husband, who died from mesothelioma in 2006.
However, the bill, which passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee by a 47-1 vote in November 2019, ultimately stalled and was removed from the suspension calendar without a vote, as House Democrats chastised their Republican counterparts for withdrawing their support.
According to an Oct. 1 report published in The Hill, the controversy centered on a provision that guarantees the bill wouldn’t impact ongoing litigation concerning injuries related to the use of talcum powder.
In a joint statement released Oct. 1, Committee Chair Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ), Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee Chair Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) said: “Everyone should be able to support a ban on this known carcinogen, which has no place in our consumer products or processes.”
The group added: “Republicans walked away from this opportunity to ban asbestos merely over language that prevents shutting the courtroom door. This raises serious questions about the sincerity of their intentions.”
Committee Ranking Member Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) and Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) offered a rebuttal in an Oct. 1 statement: “Saying we walked away is simply untrue. All Democrats have to do is drop the language added to the bill by trial lawyers and bring the bill to the floor that every one of their members voted for when it was considered by our committee. If anyone’s intentions should be questioned, we can assure you it’s not ours.”