EPA Opens Door for Asbestos Comeback

“The Trump administration rewrote the rules to be dramatically less protective of human health.”

Photo of asbestos warning at Bauer Elementary School in Miamisburg, Ohio. (Credit: Ktorbeck)

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Asbestos — that known carcinogen that manufacturing companies can’t seem to quit — has been linked with lung cancer and a host of other serious diseases according to the EPA.

That same EPA, however, may be on the verge of encouraging an asbestos comeback.

Fast Company reports:

On June 1, the EPA enacted a “SNUR” (short for Significant New Use Rule) allowing the manufacture of new asbestos-containing products to be petitioned and approved by the federal government on a case-by-case basis. Under an amendment to the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) that passed in 2016, during the Obama administration, asbestos also remains one of ten prioritized substances currently being evaluated by the EPA.

And the agency has taken the teeth out of its evaluation process. According to the news site, it will no longer consider “the effect or presence of substances in the air, ground, or water in its risk assessments—effectively turning a blind eye to improper disposal, contamination, emissions, and other long-term environmental and health risks associated with chemical products, including those derived from asbestos.”

“The Trump administration rewrote the rules to be dramatically less protective of human health,” Bill Walsh, board president of the Healthy Building Network, recently told Fast Company. The new rules, he added, give the EPA “discretion to do whatever it wants.”

The U.S. is one of the only developed nations that hasn’t completely banned asbestos, and legislators have a long history of prioritizing business interests associated with the material over public health. But as the Washington Post points out, President Donald Trump’s EPA is poised to tighten that allegiance. The president has voiced skepticism of the well-established link between asbestos and a host of illnesses, according to the Post. In his 1997 book “The Art of the Comeback,” he wrote that anti-asbestos efforts were “led by the mob.”

It’s hardly surprising, given his administration’s track record of dismantling the Clean Power Plan, pulling out of the Paris Agreement, rolling back vehicle emissions standards and blaming California’s record-breaking 2018 wildfires on California’s environmental laws. As the Architect’s Newspaper points out, it’s now up to local and state governments to counter the federal move.

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Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian

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Tags: healthmanufacturing

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