Don’t Let My Story Become Your Story: EPA Must Ban Asbestos Now

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By Linda Reinstein, Guest Blog

Don’t let my story become your story.

Like most Americans, I thought asbestos had been banned. Then my husband Alan was diagnosed with mesothelioma. As we searched for treatment options, we realized asbestos was not only lethal but still legal in the U.S. We were angry — and like many others — vowed to work to end the man-made asbestos disaster.

The past fourteen years have been a harsh teacher.

For more than 100 years, asbestos exposure has been known to cause injuries, disabilities, and deaths – and is the number one cause of occupational cancer in the world. While asbestos has been banned in over 60 countries and is no longer used in construction in the U.S., its use continues in our country. Each year, according to the Global Asbestos Disaster study, it kills 40,000 Americans, yet we continue to use and import hundreds of tons of raw asbestos. 

Most Americans can’t identify asbestos or manage the risk. When you combine a lack of asbestos awareness with inadequate government regulations, something horrifying happens: Americans continue to suffer and die as a result.

Although workers and firefighters suffer the highest levels of asbestos exposure, their spouses and children can also be put into contact with the toxic chemical when these workers unknowingly carry it home on their clothes or in their hair.

Over forty years ago, Congress attempted to regulate the use of toxic chemicals in our air, food, water and in the products we use every day by passing the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which was adopted into law in 1976. While some improvements were made, it didn’t do nearly enough to protect our children and families from harmful chemicals, particularly asbestos. 

Some positive steps were taken to address the asbestos crisis in 1975, when the recently established EPA banned the use of the chemical in insulation, and again in 1989 when the Agency moved towards banning its use entirely. Unfortunately, this progress was short lived. In 1991, chemical industry lawyers successfully blocked that rule from being fully implemented.

In 2016, while Alan was breathlessly fighting for his life, Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) joined a broad coalition of public health, consumer, and environmental groups to reform the fatally flawed TSCA. It seemed like everyone, including the chemical industry, used asbestos as the poster child for the need to improve the outdated law. Throughout the debate, it was made abundantly clear to all lawmakers and stakeholders that the only way to truly protect Americans from asbestos was to enable and ensure the EPA could finally ban it. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

What did come out of the reform was that, for the first time ever, the EPA was given the power to improve how it reviews the potential toxicity of hundreds of chemicals and determine how best to address their use. Asbestos is among the first batch of 10 chemicals the EPA will examine. This new evaluation framework is a deceptive strategy by Trump’s EPA to circumvent Obama-era improvements to the recently reformed TSCA. The evidence for this assertion is clear, as, on June 1, 2018, the EPA released the Problem Formulation of the Risk Evaluation for Asbestos, which lays out the proposed federal approach to addressing the threat posed by this deadly chemical. 

The documents indicate EPA is taking a grossly inadequate approach to evaluating the health risks posed not just by asbestos, but the other nine prioritized chemicals as well. Not even included in the evaluation process are the potential effects of exposure to chemicals in the air, ground or water. Given the death toll asbestos has already wrought, and the extensive research proving its role in causing cancer and an assortment of other ailments, anything short of banning it is criminal.

Here are seven facts you need to know:

  • The EPA is ignoring the deadly risks of asbestos in our homes, schools, workplaces, and communities.
  • The EPA has erroneously decided to limit the scope of their systematic review to only lung cancer and mesothelioma — which ignores exposures and deaths from ovarian and laryngeal cancers, and asbestosis.
  • The EPA refuses to consider the risks of asbestos released into the environment, including the dramatically increasing amounts of the chemical that are placed in landfills across the U.S.
  • For the first time ever, the EPA has proposed a Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) allowing for new uses of asbestos.
  • Chlor-Alkali industry, the primary asbestos importer and user, is stockpiling hundreds of tons of this deadly chemical. Early ADAO research confirms that between January and April of 2018 the chemical industry imported 257 metric tons of raw asbestos from Brazil and Russia – that’s four times greater than during that same period in 2017.
  • The American Chemistry Council (ACC) continues to falsely claim that the Chlorine Industry has a “long history of safe use”.
  • Trump is the poster child for the Russian asbestos miners and users. In fact, the Russian company, Uralasbest, with ties to Vladimir Putin, is praising President Trump for allowing asbestos to remain legal in the U.S. with a photograph and slogan saying, “Approved by Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States.”

If the EPA is unable to protect the public from a chemical as notoriously deadly as asbestos, how will it protect us from over 80,000 other chemicals that have yet to be grandfathered into commerce?

The time is now to urge the EPA to do their job and protect the public from toxic chemicals. Our fight is your fight. Sign the petition today calling on the EPA to ban asbestos without loopholes or exemptions of any kind!

ADAO proudly stands with, Center for Environmental Health (CEH), Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families (SCHF), and hundreds of public health and environmental organizations that have been fighting for chemical reform for decades.

As CEH stated in a letter signed by a coalition of 30 different organizations, “We demand that the EPA comprehensively evaluate chemicals using the OHAT systematic review protocol, based on all hazards, including hormone disruption, and all of the ways in which people may be exposed whether it’s in a product, workplace, or through air, water or soil.”

As the Chinese Proverb says, “Out of the hottest fire comes the strongest steel.” I am certain our coalition is galvanized for the fight ahead and we will win.

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Linda Reinstein became a public health advocate after her husband, Alan, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2003. One year later, she co-founded the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), dedicated to eliminating asbestos-caused diseases and protecting asbestos victims’ civil rights through education, advocacy, and community initiatives. Recognized as a prevention and public policy influencer, Reinstein has been a strong political voice for major local, national, and international issues. Serving as President and CEO of ADAO, she organizes the only annual international educational conference in the U.S. solely dedicated to eliminating asbestos-caused diseases.

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