Posted on May 1, 2019
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has once again dismissed calls for transparency in favor of helping corporate polluters. Yesterday, the agency denied a petition from 15 Attorneys General (AG), that would have required asbestos importers and users to report their activities to the EPA. The excuse EPA gave is that it doesn’t need this information to evaluate the risks of asbestos to public health. If that sounds familiar, it’s probably because that’s the exact same excuse they used when they denied our Right to Know Petition last December!
While deeply disappointed by EPA’s decision to deny the AG’s petition, we are not surprised. Under the Trump Administration, the agency has consistently avoided its responsibility under the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) to rigorously assess the asbestos threat and impose restrictions to protect the public. Without meaningful action by EPA, this man-made asbestos disaster continues.
We worked hard with our colleagues to ensure asbestos was named as one of the first ten chemicals for risk evaluation under TSCA. And yes, when EPA agreed to evaluate asbestos, we were hopeful that it would finally finish its job and remove asbestos from US commerce. Our hopes were dashed when it became apparent that the risk evaluation was so riddled with exemptions and limitations that it would grossly understate the risk of asbestos to public health, making a comprehensive ban impossible.
Asbestos has not become less of a deadly carcinogen since the EPA tried to ban it in 1989. In fact, asbestos claims the lives of nearly 40,000 Americans every year, double the previous estimate, yet asbestos imports and use continue. Just last month Administrator Andrew Wheeler committed to banning asbestos before the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, but one week later EPA issued its “significant new use rule” (SNUR) for asbestos which requires that companies notify EPA before potentially reintroducing manufacturing, importing, and processing of asbestos for 19 obsolete products. EPA advertised the SNUR as a strong step to restrict asbestos, but let me make this clear: a SNUR is NOT a BAN, it’s just a notification requirement.
Bob Sussman chief counsel for ADAO shares a quote about our current legal action: “EPA’s lame and unconvincing denial of the petition for asbestos reporting by 15 influential state AGs is more evidence that EPA is opposed to transparency and uninterested in basing its decisions on real-world information from the companies who are responsible for exposing the public to asbestos. ADAO and other groups are challenging EPA’s denial of their similar petition in court and the Agency’s latest refusal to require reporting, even when requested by our largest states, will simply strengthen our legal case.”
It’s become clear that legislation and litigation are the only tools that will force EPA’s hand. The bicameral Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act of 2019 (ARBAN) currently has nearly 50 cosponsors and would ban asbestos within one year of its enactment.
Although we are discouraged by EPA once again making a decision that favors profit over people, we are more galvanized in our fight than ever before and remain committed to banning asbestos without any loopholes or exemptions, and protecting Americans from the deadly carcinogen.
Together, we will make change happen.