WASHINGTON – Top political appointees at the Environmental Protection Agency ignored calls by agency scientists and lawyers to implement an outright ban of asbestos, according to internal memos obtained by the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization. The memos and the EPA’s actions were reported today by The New York Times.
“Rather than allow for (even with restrictions) any new uses for asbestos, E.P.A. should seek to ban all new uses of asbestos because the extreme harm from this chemical substance outweighs any benefit – and because there are adequate alternatives to asbestos,” EPA staff members wrote in one of the memos. The Times said the memos show that the staff members “considered the agency’s review process and the rule itself seriously flawed.”
Instead of a ban, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced a new rule last month that would allow manufacturers to resume abandoned uses of asbestos if approved by the EPA.
Revelation of the memos comes as a key House committee holds a hearing today to consider legislation that would ban the importation, manufacture and distribution of all forms of asbestos within 12 months of the bill’s passage.
The hearing, entitled “Ban Asbestos Now: Taking Action to Save Lives and Livelihood,” takes place before the Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change, where members of the panel will hear testimony on the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act of 2019 (H.R. 1603).
The legislation, authored by Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), would also require the EPA, the Labor Department and the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a comprehensive report to assess the “presence of asbestos in residential, commercial, industrial, public, and school buildings” and “the extent of exposure and risk to human health associated with the asbestos present in such buildings.”
“The sheer number of lives cut short and families destroyed from asbestos exposure demand nothing less than an outright ban,” said EWG Legislative Attorney Melanie Benesh. “If Administrator Wheeler and the Trump administration won’t act, then Congress must by passing this critical piece of legislation that finally bans asbestos. I can’t think of an easier vote for members of Congress to cast than for a bill that bans a substance responsible for the deaths of so many.”
The legislation is named after Alan Reinstein, who died of mesothelioma, in May 2006. His widow, Linda Reinstein, the co-founder and president of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, will testify at today’s hearing. Under her leadership, ADAO has been a tireless advocate on behalf of victims and their families for 15 years.
“The human cost of asbestos exposure has been horrific and the death toll shocking,” said Linda Reinstein in her prepared testimony. “From 1991 to 2017, more than 1 million Americans died from preventable asbestos-caused diseases. For these victims and their families, it is too late. It was outrageous to read the testimony from Mike Walls of the American Chemistry Council, stating he and the chemical industry lobby oppose H.R. 1603.”
In her testimony, Reinstein cites U.S. mortality data from the Global Health Data Exchange that estimates more than 1 million Americans died from preventable asbestos-triggered diseases between 1991 and 2017 alone.
A recent study led by the president of the International Commission on Occupational Health found the death toll from asbestos exposure to be nearly 40,000 Americans a year and more than 255,000 a year worldwide.
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