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EPA limits its review of asbestos exposure risk

In 2016, Congress amended the Toxic Control Substances Act to require the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct risk-based assessments of dangerous chemicals. The bill passed with bipartisan support.

Among the first 10 chemicals to be evaluated under the revised TCSA is asbestos, the deadly carcinogen responsible for mesothelioma, lung cancer and other deadly illnesses.

As required by law, on June 1, 2018, the EPA released its first 10 “problem formation” documents, which defines the scope of the EPA’s investigation into dangerous chemicals currently in our nation’s buildings, products, land, air and water.

EPA narrows scope of its investigation into asbestos

The EPA, in defining its investigation, does not question that asbestos fibers, when inhaled, cause both mesothelioma and lung cancer. However, the EPA has decided not to investigate links between asbestos exposure and other cancers, including throat cancer and testicular cancer.

While the EPA theoretically had wide latitude to investigate asbestos, including issuing a new ban, it has chosen not to do so. In 1989, the EPA banned asbestos-containing products. That regulation was overturned by a federal court in 1991, however. It is currently still legal to use asbestos in many products, and the U.S. imported at least 300 metric tons of raw asbestos in 2017.

Legacy asbestos given a free pass

In addition to discounting the risk asbestos poses for serious illnesses other than mesothelioma and lung cancer, the EPA will not be investigating legacy uses of asbestos. Legacy uses include any product or manufacturing process that is no longer in use. A large portion of asbestos exposure comes from old buildings and products.

Small prevention step a possibility

The EPA is considering passing a significant new rule (SNUR) regarding asbestos. This rule would require asbestos importers, and manufacturers using asbestos, to obtain EPA approval. While it is better than having no oversight, it falls short of the asbestos ban advocates for mesothelioma victims were hoping for.

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