Three years ago, there was bipartisan euphoria when President Obama signed the Frank L. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act into law. The updated Toxic Substances Control Act 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 Trump’s EPA has been problematic from the get-go. The path for TSCA implementation has and was put in jeopardy when Scott Pruitt, former Oklahoma attorney general, was confirmed as the EPA Administrator.
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, an industry advocacy group, now hold high-level EPA positions. Most notably, Nancy Beck was selected to head the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. 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.
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 death. 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.
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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 incredible 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.
The late Sen. Lautenberg fought hard for meaningful chemical reform, but the bill carrying his name 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) comprise 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 Merkley (D-Ore.), Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore), Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ), and Representative Elissa Slotkin (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.