U.S. Loosens Asbestos Restrictions While Other World Powers Ban It
Del. Matt Rohrbach, R-Cabell, a physician and member of the West Virginia House of Delegates Health and Human Resources Committee, said he would not be in favor of loosening any restrictions around asbestos even as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is apparently working on doing just that rather than issuing a ban, and he said he couldn’t imagine anyone actively choosing to use it. “There is no question it has a lot of health risks, so to lessen any requirements to make a building safe doesn’t seem to be in the interest of public health,” Rohrbach said.
As part of the latest updates to the reformed Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), however, the EPA proposed new rules for the risk evaluation of asbestos earlier this year. The agency released a proposal which would require its approval before asbestos-containing goods can be manufactured, imported, or processed. It would also grant it the power to evaluate the intended use of asbestos and take action, when necessary, to prohibit or limit its use.
Iceland was the first to ban asbestos in 1983, with Canada committed to a total ban in 2016. The United States remains one of the last-standing world powers to not join these ranks. A 2017 study by the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) shows the U.S. actually imported an estimated 705 metric tons of raw chrysotile asbestos in 2016. Most of it is used by the chloralkali industry, in which asbestos is utilized in the chlorine manufacturing process. Other asbestos-containing materials still legal in the U.S. include gaskets and friction products.
“Every day, Americans are exposed to deadly substances like asbestos that are strongly linked to cancer and other devastating diseases without seeing a sufficient response from the government,” Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said. “By moving to ignore the health concerns of disposal and past uses of asbestos and other dangerous chemicals, the EPA is flagrantly disregarding the fact that it is statutorily required to look at the full lifecycle of these chemicals, from manufacture to disposal.”
In West Virginia, specifically, where there are a number of asbestos-related lawsuits, state code states the substance is a dangerous toxin and harmful to citizens. To ensure they are protected, anyone who comes in contact with asbestos through abatement, removal, enclosure, or encapsulation must be trained and licensed to deal with it. Between 1998 and 2000, West Virginia and four other states accounted for two-thirds of all U.S. asbestos case filings, and, as of 2006, the state processed an estimated 33,000 asbestos claims. However, not all states are as cautious about the use of asbestos or as plaintiff-friendly when cases are handled in court.
“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,” EWG said in a response to the EPA’s new guidelines. “These woefully incomplete problem formulations signal the EPA’s intent to discount human health risks to justify weak regulations of these chemicals.”