Chaos within the EPA exposes Americans to toxins like asbestos

Chaos within the EPA exposes Americans to toxins like asbestos
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Three years ago, there was bipartisan euphoria when President Obama signed the Frank L. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (LCSA) into law. The updated Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) finally gave the EPA regulatory authority to protect Americans from dangerous toxic substances like asbestos, a known human carcinogen. During the pen signing ceremony, Obama said the much-needed legislation was a crucial step forward, remarking, "The [old] system was so complex, it was so burdensome that our country hasn't even been able to uphold a ban on asbestos." 

The ongoing battle for chemical safety reform continues.

For many, President TrumpDonald John Trump5 things to know about Boris Johnson Conservatives erupt in outrage against budget deal Trump says Omar will help him win Minnesota MORE’s EPA has been problematic from the get-go. The path for TSCA implementation has and was put in jeopardy when Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: EPA halts surprise inspections of power, chemical plants | Regulators decline to ban pesticide linked to brain damage | NY awards country's largest offshore wind energy contracts EPA allows continued use of pesticide linked with brain damage Overnight Energy: Trump officials gut DC staff for public lands agency to move West | Democrats slam EPA over scientific boards | Deepwater Horizon most litigated environmental issue of decade MORE, former Oklahoma attorney general, was confirmed as the EPA Administrator.

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Met with confrontation, Pruitt’s regulatory rollbacks and ethics violations forced him to resign 12 months after his Senate confirmation. Pruitt wasn’t alone. Many who formerly worked at American Chemistry Council (ACC) now hold high-level EPA positions. Most notably, Nancy Beck, was selected to head the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP). Overseeing the toxic chemical unit, Beck carried out Trump’s seeming pro-industry agenda. The revolving doors continue as Beck now heads to the White House's National Economic Council. 

The EPA attempted to ban asbestos in 1989, but was sued by Corrosion Proof Fittings, a company that used asbestos in their products. In 1991, an appeals court overturned the ban, resulting in a failure to ban the deadly chemical through TSCA. 

Nearly 70 countries have already banned asbestos, but sadly, three years after Obama signed LCSA into law, U.S. asbestos imports, use, and deaths continue. Each year, nearly 40,000 Americans die from preventable asbestos-caused diseases such as lung cancer, mesothelioma, cancer of the larynx and ovary and asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs). For each life lost, a shattered family is left behind.

For more than a century, asbestos has been confirmed to cause suffering and deaths. The EPA has failed to protect public health and the environment by banning asbestos. Without a ban, asbestos remains lethal and legal today and can be found in consumer products, cosmetics, automotive products, and building materials.

The chlor-alkali industry is the primary asbestos importer and user of raw asbestos for the manufacturing of industrial chlorine and caustic soda. Knowing that there is no safe or controlled use, it’s incredulous that asbestos imports actually surged last year. According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the chlor-alkali industry imported 750 metric tons of raw asbestos from Brazil and Russia. 

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The late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) fought hard for meaningful chemical reform, and TSCA is on track to fail, again. The EPA’s present asbestos evaluation excludes the risk of asbestos in millions of homes, schools, and offices. Furthermore, industry-friendly rules like the “significant new use” rule (SNUR) is just another attempt to negate asbestos risk. 

Trump has long been fascinated with asbestos, and said once on Twitter, “If we didn't remove incredibly powerful fire retardant asbestos & replace it with junk that doesn't work, the World Trade Center would never have burned down.”

Last summer, ADAO discovered that Uralasbest, a Russian asbestos company, placed a seal with Trump’s face on their product with the note "Approved by Donald Trump, 45th President of the United States." 

In order to ban asbestos imports and use without loopholes or exemptions, Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyAl Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Dems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Democrats warm to idea of studying reparations MORE (D-Ore.), Rep. Suzanne BonamiciSuzanne Marie BonamiciHouse lawmakers introduce bill to help those struggling with student debt Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Lawmakers put spotlight on youth homelessness MORE (D-Ore), Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ), and Representative Elissa SlotkinElissa SlotkinHouse Dems, Senate GOP build money edge to protect majorities Hopes dim for passage of Trump trade deal Freshman members form bipartisan task force on election vulnerabilities ahead of 2020 MORE (D-MI) introduced the bicameral Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act of 2019 (S. 717) and (H.R. 1603), named for my late husband. Numerous Congressional hearings confirmed that the EPA is presently unable to uphold their mission to “protect human health and the environment.”

An asbestos ban from Trump’s EPA is at best, unreliable. Americans are tired of the fox guarding the hen house. It’s time for Congress to pass the Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act.

Linda Reinstein is the president and chief executive of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, which seeks to eliminate asbestos-caused diseases and protect the rights of asbestos victims.