EPA may make a deadly mistake — no amount of asbestos exposure is safe

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As a registered nurse for The Mesothelioma Center, I have been assisting mesothelioma patients and their caregivers for almost 10 years. I’ve spoken with thousands of people battling this asbestos-related cancer.

I’ve listened to countless stories from patients fighting for their lives because of asbestos. I’ve consoled numerous grieving family members and friends, hearing stories of their loved ones.

{mosads}I’m currently assisting a woman who is only 27 years old. She has been diagnosed with peritoneal and pleural mesothelioma — the two most common types of the disease. She is a single mother and unable to work.


She lives in a rural area and is unable to travel to get the appropriate care she needs to fight this aggressive cancer.

As you can see, mesothelioma does not only affect older, blue-collar men — it affects all Americans.  

With the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent policy proposals, the door may now be open to new uses of asbestos.

The EPA’s significant new use rule (SNUR) will focus on possible harm from direct contact with asbestos at the workplace or elsewhere. It would allow companies to manufacture, import and process new asbestos-containing products after the evaluation of health dangers from direct contact exposures.

I worry the agency will not be considering all of the ways this toxic mineral may be harmful in the future.  

People should know the dangers of asbestos and what diseases it can cause. They should know ways of exposure including occupational and secondary exposure — asbestos sticking to their clothing and skin and exposing others.

Asbestos-containing materials are virtually harmless if left intact. However, they become deadly when damaged during renovations and demolitions, or as they age over time. Friable asbestos materials such as crumbling pipe insulation can release large amounts of toxic asbestos dust into the air.

Product categories under the proposed significant new uses of asbestos rule include:

  • Adhesives, sealants and roof and non-roof coatings
  • Reinforced plastics
  • Roofing felt
  • Vinyl asbestos floor tile
  • Pipeline wrap
  • High-grade electrical paper
  • Other building materials including insulation, plasters, mastics and textured paints

Although these products are not problematic when they are new and well maintained, they become toxic when they age, become frayed and begin to deteriorate, sending microscopic asbestos fibers airborne. Cutting, sanding or drilling into these materials also pose serious health risks.

Inhaling or ingesting these microscopic fibers is what can lead to serious health conditions later in life such as asbestosis and mesothelioma. No amount of asbestos exposure is considered safe.

At this time, there is no cure for asbestos-related diseases. If a person develops mesothelioma, their life expectancy and quality of life decreases significantly.

The risks of using asbestos outweigh the benefits. There are more than 40,000 diagnoses of asbestos-related illnesses in the U.S. each year. There are likely thousands more unreported.

Most of the people I speak with are not fully aware asbestos is still used in products in the U.S. such as brake pads, automobile clutches, roofing materials, cement piping and corrugated sheeting. These materials can be manufactured with asbestos as long as the mineral accounts for less than 1 percent of the product.

Sadly, many don’t know much about the diseases the toxic mineral can cause until they are diagnosed.

For the vast majority of people, the only way to prevent mesothelioma is to avoid asbestos exposure. Unfortunately, many retired workers, military veterans and others who have a long history of heavy exposure sit and wait in fear that they may develop an asbestos-related disease.

My colleague and fellow patient advocate Dr. Snehal Smart recently spoke with a Navy veteran diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma. He shared how he would be in a cloud of dust with no protective clothing or masks for hours each day while working in the boiler rooms of ships. He had no choice but to inhale the fumes and clouds of dust that contained asbestos while serving his country.

Mesothelioma can take 20 to 50 years before the first symptoms appear. When they do show, most patients are in the later stages of the disease and survive an average of a year after diagnosis.

More products made with asbestos increases the risk of future exposures to this carcinogen.

We need a full ban on asbestos in the U.S. and worldwide. People need to use all avenues to help better educate the public of the dangers of asbestos, raise awareness and continue to fight.

Karen Selby is a patient advocate at The Mesothelioma Center. She is a registered nurse with a background in oncology and thoracic surgery and was the regional director of a tissue bank.

Tags asbestos EPA Karen Selby Mesothelioma
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