November 28, 2018: Alexandra Dunn, “I understand the great concern with asbestos in the environment, and the deaths that have occurred due to asbestos exposure, and I would like to work with your office on this.” U.S. Senate EPW Hearing 

Posted on November 26, 2018

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP) carries the immense responsibility of protecting Americans from toxic chemicals. It enforces and implements a wide swath of legislation to protect public health and our environment, including the Pollution Prevention Act, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, and the Toxic Substances Control Act, under which asbestos is regulated. It is almost impossible to overestimate the importance of this office to the worldwide asbestos safety movement.

It is troubling, then, that the OCSPP has been without a Senate-confirmed leader for almost two years. As is par for course in President Trump’s EPA, corruption scandals have disrupted a successful appointment for the position and prevented the Agency from functioning properly. . A quick review of the past 23 months: Trump’s initial attempt at filling the role went up in smoke after his nominee, Michael Dourson, was revealed to have deep industry ties to and a long involvement in scientifically questionable research. Public health advocates and environmentalists mounted a considerable and bipartisan opposition to his long track record of research-for-hire funded by large corporations, and Dourson withdrew his nomination last December.

As a stop-gap measure, OCSPP has been led by an unconfirmed political appointee, Dr. Nancy Beck, since Trump took office in January 2017. Beck, a former official of the American Chemistry Council, has downplayed public health protection and reliably carried out a pro-industry agenda. She has shown no interest in using the EPA’s authority to meaningfully address the threat of asbestos exposure.

This catches us up to the present, where President Trump has just named a second nominee for this Assistant Administrator role Alexandra Dapolito Dunn.Her confirmation hearing is scheduled for November 29 before the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee.

Unlike her predecessor, Ms. Dunn’s record demonstrates that she is independent, attuned to public health and environmental concerns and unlikely to compromise the integrity of her office. Also unlike Dourson, Dunn is likely to receive the votes necessary to approve her nomination. However, the very fact that she is being nominated by President Trump merits scrutiny, given the pro-industry and anti-science bias of previous nominees and the troubling record of OCSPP under Beck’s stewardship. Dunn will be under pressure to maintain the status quo at OCSPP, and it’s reasonable to demand that she commit to taking unbiased action in the public interest, even if that means revisiting and changing questionable decisions that were made on Beck’s watch. OCSPP is, quite simply, severely off track on asbestos.

If confirmed, Dunn will have the opportunity to change course and make protection of public health her top priority. ADAO is taking action to ensure that this happens. We will once again submit a letter into the nomination hearing record, and we have called on the EPW  Committee to question Dunn on a slew of issues related to asbestos regulation.

We want to know, for example,  whether or not she is prepared to strengthen and expand the ongoing asbestos risk evaluation under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), reverse the troubling exclusions of legacy use and disposal from the evaluation, and withdraw the highly-questionable proposed Significant New Use Rule to permanently ban discontinued asbestos products. We also expect the Committee to press Dunn on the status of ADAO’s Right-to-Know petition, which seeks to eliminate the asbestos loophole in TSCA reporting requirements, as well as to  question her views on the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, whose under-enforcement threatens safeguards for school children and teachers nationwide. . If confirmed, it will be Dunn’s job to complete the ongoing evaluation of the risks of asbestos and decide whether to ban asbestos under the bipartisan TSCA update of 2016.

I echo the remarks of Scott Faber, Vice President of Government Affairs for the Environmental Working Group: “The Senate should not confirm Alex Dunn unless she clearly commits to follow the law — unlike the team of former chemical industry lobbyists she has been nominated to work with and supervise [at OCSPP]… This is a job for a janitor who is committed to cleaning up Trump’s toxic mess, not a greenwasher for the chemical industry.”

Like Faber,  ADAO is fiercely committed to determining whether or not Dunn is fit to serve as Assistant Administrator for the OCSPP.

We remain dedicated to banning asbestos without loopholes or exemptions once and for all, because we know that our very future depends on it. 

Linda Reinstein


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