Scott Pruitt Cooks the Books on Toxic Chemical Evaluations, Including Asbestos

CORRECTION, Aug. 23, 2018: This article has been corrected to remove a statement that the EPA refused to ban new uses of asbestos.

WASHINGTON – Today the Environmental Protection Agency released documents indicating it will dramatically scale back its safety evaluations for 10 chemicals under the revamped Toxic Substances Control Act.

The agency reaffirmed that it will not review exposures from legacy uses of asbestos, one of the world’s most notorious carcinogens that has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has yet again proved he is uniquely unfit for the job, said Melanie Benesh, legislative attorney at EWG.

Under the new law, Congress gave the EPA much broader authority to ban toxic chemicals or dramatically curtail their uses in commerce to protect the public, especially vulnerable populations like young children, from exposure to toxic chemicals. Among the chemicals under consideration for such actions are asbestos; 1,4-dioxane, an industrial solvent and common household product contaminant; and methylene chloride and trichloroethylene, two neurotoxic, cancer-causing solvents.

“The release of these problem formulations further highlights this EPA’s commitment to cooking the books on chemical safety in favor of polluters,” said Benesh. “This failure is further proof Mr. Pruitt should not be within 100 miles of any position for which public health protection is part of the job.”

"Scott Pruitt’s blatant attempt to bamboozle Americas by stating he’s taking ‘important, unprecedented action on asbestos,’ while avoiding a ban, is reprehensible,” said Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization President and Co-Founder Linda Reinstein. "The asbestos importers and users may see this as an initial win – but they are dead wrong.  ADAO has built an arsenal of evidence in the docket proving there is no safe or controlled use of this toxic chemical. Pruitt’s actions today signal TSCA reform is a failure." 

In 2016, Congress passed and President Obama signed into law the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act, which amended the woefully weak Toxic Substances Control Act. The new law gives the EPA power to finally ban asbestos and other dangerous chemicals. However, the problem formulations the EPA released today fail to consider the key ways Americans are exposed to these chemicals, such as exposures from contaminated air, drinking water, and even consumer and skin care products.

Ignoring the many ways in which people are exposed to chemicals will put vulnerable populations, such as young children and communities living near factories, at even greater risk. These woefully incomplete problem formulations signal the EPA’s intent to discount human health risks to justify weak regulations of these chemicals.

Pruitt’s EPA is doing the bidding of the chemical industry by giving it the green light to continue business as usual, and by signaling that even the most dangerous chemicals are unlikely to be restricted or banned.

Late last year, major chemical corporations and the ACC held at least four meetings with EPA officials about the agency’s plans for asbestos under the revamped TSCA law.

“With today’s announcement, it’s clear polluters can ask Scott Pruitt for virtually any favor, no matter how outrageous, and they’ll get it,” Benesh added.

Up to 15,000 Americans die each year from mesothelioma, asbestosis and other diseases triggered by asbestos exposure. Yet the U.S. remains one of the few advanced countries in the world that has not banned all uses of the notorious carcinogen.

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